Should You Develop for Android or iOS First?


Android is the world's most popular mobile operating system. The competition isn't even close. Android owns a whopping 85% of the market, with Apple's iOS is trailing far in the distance with just 13%. Despite this disparity, you'll often hear people suggest developers target iOS first. But should they really? Let's look at some data. 

People around the world are using more than 5,000 unique devices (smartphones, tablets) across the Web, according to new numbers from Netbiscuits. That figure is up by 23% compared with the second quarter of the year. Some people refer to this as fragmentation. The single most popular device in the world is the Apple iPhone 5s. It generates an astonishing 13% of Web traffic. The top five devices represent 39% of all Web traffic. That's down from 46%, which means fragmentation is increasing. Netbiscuits says this is because new hardware vendors are constantly joining the market. 

Of the 5,000 devices, Apple has about a dozen screen sizes and resolutions. When you start to look at Android, you're talking about hundreds of screen sizes and resolutions. From a developer's perspective, the difference can be daunting. 

There's no question Android offers a greater opportunity in terms of absolute scale. With almost seven times the installed base of iOS, you might be tempted to think Android should come first when developing new projects. It's open source, everything is free or low cost, and there are 1 billion device owners around the world who are anxious to download apps. These numbers are compelling, to be sure. Why should anyone bother with the iPhone? Money. 

Each and every iOS device is connected to iTunes and a credit card. It's that simple. The same is not true of Android devices. While a great many Android device owners have likely added a credit card to the Google Play Store, the majority have not. Think about where Android is most popular: China, India and other emerging markets where credit cards often aren't used at all. Further, study after study has shown iPhone owners generally make more money than Android owners and are willing to spend their money on apps.  

But wait, there's more. Netbiscuits points out that phablets are rising quickly in the ranks among Web users worldwide. Phablets account for 14% of Web traffic worldwide, which is double what it was six months ago. Most of those phablets run Android. Further, Web traffic from Android-based tablets has surged in recent quarters. Android already has more than 50% of total tablet traffic in 89 of 219 countries and territories tracked by Netbiscuits. It anticipates significant growth for Android over the Christmas period and predicts that Android will overtake iOS as the leading operating system in the base of tablets by end of March, when it will reach 51%.

With Android already dominating iOS in smartphones and poised to capture the lead in tablets, can the argument still be made to develop for iOS first? It's a tough question to answer. What are your thoughts? Has the market swung far enough in Android's favor to make it the go-to Platform for your projects? Or does the allure of iTunes-connected credit cards beckon too strongly? Please sound off in the comments.

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Be sure to read the next Smartphone article: Google Android Studio 1.0 Release Essential for App Developers