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Why do developers prefer iOS?

Posted on 18 Jun 2012 at 09:50

Kevin Partner investigates why developers are opting for Apple's mobile OS, and what this means for other online businesses

Why do app developers prefer iOS? And what can an online business learn from this fact?

At first glance, a bias towards iOS makes no sense, since Android-based smartphone activations outstripped those of the iPhone some time ago, passing 500,000 per day in 2010.

That’s a huge market, and Google’s lead is likely to extend as vendors introduce more capable entry-level smartphones that attract users upgrading from “dumb” mobiles. Still, the majority of new apps are written for the iPhone.

A glance at the Showcase page of cross-platform development tool Corona SDK reveals that of the 25 most recent Corona apps, 17 were for iOS and ten for Android, with only two targeting both. Since Corona makes it easy to create for either OS, this is by choice rather than ease of development or feature set.


I don’t buy the common explanation that developers are frustrated by Android’s “fragmentation”. Certainly, there’s a huge range of devices (Google informed me that 685 different models would be able to download my recent app), but they differ from each other far less than Windows PCs do.

I don’t buy the common explanation that developers are frustrated by Android’s fragmentation

Take a look at the version breakdown here and you’ll see the majority of Android users are on versions 2.2+, with almost 90% on Froyo or Gingerbread – between which you’ll be hard-pressed to spot any difference. Yes, fragmentation was a problem in the early days, but since 2.2 it’s been one app for all.

Android device screen sizes and resolutions do vary – but again, within a small range: a table on Google’s Developer Console shows that for my app, five of the top six most popular devices have an 800 x 480 screen resolution and the same aspect ratio, making it possible to scale the same code for all (which Corona does automatically).

And given that Samsung’s Galaxy S II accounts for 30% of all downloads on its own, it isn’t too difficult to identify the prime target. Overall, I’ve found writing Android apps no more complex than for Apple, and publishing them several orders of magnitude easier.

Money motives

So although fragmentation is a popular criticism of Android, in my view it’s groundless. The perceived “coolness” of iOS is certainly another important factor, but the main reason developers choose iOS is simpler: money. According to mobile analytics firm Flurry, for every pound an app can make on iOS it will bring in only 24p on Android. Rovio famously chose not to charge for Android versions of Angry Birds because they make more money from in-app advertising, and the reluctance of Android users to pay for apps has become as much a part of received wisdom as fragmentation (and perhaps just as false).

Culture probably plays a part: most Apple users have been exposed to the iTunes ethos of charged-for content since they likely upgraded to iPhone from iPod. But given the ubiquity of Apple’s popular music player, most Android users will also have previously owned an iPod, so I don’t buy the argument that Android itself fosters a something-for-nothing culture any more than other mobile OSes. I doubt the majority of recent Android phone buyers are more than dimly aware of what OS they have, let alone of its supposed culture!

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User comments

A couple of points....

"Still, the majority of new apps are written for the iPhone.

A glance at the Showcase page of cross-platform development tool Corona SDK reveals that of the 25 most recent Corona apps, 17 were for iOS and ten for Android, with only two targeting both. Since Corona makes it easy to create for either OS, this is by choice rather than ease of development or feature set."

If this is how you're measuring it then your reasoning is flawed. That just proves that the majority of Corona based apps are built for IOS.

Also, your point about the price of apps is a little misleading. Most of the recent research we've seen on app development monetizing shows that Freemium apps make more money than paid apps, mainly because of the data you collect.

However, I have to say that we use IOS for our development work, but the "just works" motto doesn't even come close. Five macs, and three replacements out of the five this year means that we're seriously thinking of going to Windows. Which, would have been unheard of in this office a year ago....

By CraigieDD on 18 Jun 2012


My point was that even with a tool that makes it just as easy to develop and publish for Android as iOS, developers choose iOS.

Freemium - what do you do with this data in order to monetize it?

Oh, and I much prefer developing for Android on Windows - this is much closer to my philosophical comfort zone than Apple's straitjacket but I run a business - I go where the money is.

By KevPartner on 18 Jun 2012

Thanks for the swift reply Kevin.

Data is king in terms of money making. Didn't the Angry Birds developers make more money from the free version of angry birds than they ever did from the paid for IOS version.

By CraigieDD on 18 Jun 2012


Yes, at huge scales data can be valuable. For the vast, vast bulk of developers, however, I'd suggest it's close to worthless. I'd rather someone just paid me their 50p to buy the darned thing!

Not sure about the Angry Birds story. I know they gave up on charging for it via Android (though I note there's a "premium" version of the latest game) and made money on ads instead. Again, you'd need massive popularity for it to pay off.

By KevPartner on 18 Jun 2012


Hi Kevin,

If you go for niche data then it's worth a lot more than generic data. For example a fitness app accumulating a database of fitness freaks is worth four to five times more than generic data.

And also, on the angry birds story....

Have a look at the Freemium model. It may surprise you.

By CraigieDD on 19 Jun 2012


Yes, as I said if you have huge downloads you can make money from ads but I agree with the article that, in the case of Angry Birds, it was largely due to Android's poor payment system.

If the freemium model is so effective, why do Rovio still charge for Angry Birds on iOS?

And by the way, I'm completely familiar with the principles of Freemium, one of my businesses is entirely based on it.

Regarding niche data, again I agree in principle but to be worth measurable amounts of money you must have a lot of it, an awful lot.

By KevPartner on 19 Jun 2012

Another far more valid reason

There's another more solid reason why people don't buy apps on Android phones. When you have an iPhone it feels part of a continuing cycle, there were model 3G, 4 etc before and 5 etc to look forward to. Whatever apps you buy you know that you'll be able to move them to your new iPhone and if there is a problem you'll go to an Apple store or phone the helpline.
With Android, every phone feels like an island. You may be able to move apps to a new phone, you may not. Your relationship is with the phone shop, the phone company and the phone manufacturer and you know that they don't care. If you can't carry on your apps that'll be too bad. They'll just want to sell you the next new shinny phone and "Sorry, we don't know about your old apps". Not a receipt to spend money.

By 108484 on 21 Jun 2012

Completely disagree

@IAMJUSTANUMBER Hmm, just as I'm NOT going to be able to install the forthcoming version of iOS on my 2 year old iPad?

I'm on my third Android phone and all my apps have followed me faultlessly.
However, I doubt very much whether the average smartphone user thinks too deeply as to whether their 69p app will last more than two years.

"They'll just want to sell you the next new shinny phone" - sorry which company are we talking about now? I rather suspect if I went into an Apple store with my iPad and complained about not being able to install iOS6 on it, I'd be pointed in the direction of a new, very shinny, iPad 3.

By KevPartner on 21 Jun 2012

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Kevin Partner

Kevin Partner

Kevin is a contributing editor to PC Pro. He's managing director of NlightN Multimedia, a Milton Keynes-based company specialising in web application development and internet marketing.

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