By: Elyse Swoverland, Android & iOS Developer at Eleven Fifty Consulting
When a person decides they want to start developing apps, the first question they frequently ask is “iOS or Android?” While both systems have their merits and faults, I have always tended to lean towards Android. I develop for both ecosystems, and while Android can be more challenging, it’s also very much worth it.
Why is Android hard? Mostly due to device and operating system fragmentation. Device fragmentation refers to the fact that Android devices come in a wide array of shapes, sizes, and performance levels. According to OpenSignal, there were 1,294 different Android device brands in 2015. Frequently, those brands also produce their own variants of the system UI, such as Samsung’s TouchWiz or HTC’s Sense.
To make development even harder, OpenSignal found that there were over 24,000 distinct Android devices seen in 2015. This number is up from just over 11,000 two years ago. Each of these distinct devices acts just a bit differently, which can make developing for the entire Android ecosystem a challenging task.
After reading all of this, you may be asking “Why is Android even worth it?” One reason is that Android makes up 83% of the worldwide smartphone market, about 1.4 billion people. It also makes up about 53% of the U.S. smartphone market. That’s a staggering number of potential users that your app can reach.
While trying to develop for 1.4 billion users and 24,000 different devices may seem like a tall task, Google has done an admirable job of making that task as easy as possible. They currently provide free simulators for a large number of those devices.
There is also a lower barrier to entry when it comes to developing for Android. You can download Android Studio for free right this second, whether you’re using Windows or a Mac. Once you’re ready to push your app to the Google Play Store, there is a one-time fee of $25 to become a Google Play Developer. In just a few hours, you should see your app on the Google Play Store. On the other side of things, if you want to start developing for iOS, you need to make sure that you own a Mac so you can download XCode. Once you’re ready to submit your app, you’ll need to join the Apple Developer Program which costs $99/year. Then, once your app is submitted, it will take about 7-10 days to go through the approval process before being added to the App Store. If your app has a major bug and you have a fix that needs to get out to users quickly, your iOS app will still have to go through that same approval process before the update will get pushed out to your users. With Google Play’s short turnaround time you can push an update to your Android app and your users will have it within a few hours.
From a consumer standpoint, the staggering number of brands and devices means that a user can get a device that meets their exact specifications. I believe that freedom of choice has played a large part in Android’s dominance in the market share. Google has also made Android development incredibly developer-friendly, especially when it comes to the app submission process. In the end, I believe that what makes developing for Android so challenging is also what makes it such a successful ecosystem.