Why developers choose Android

by: Adam SmithOctober 27, 2013

So you’ve got an idea for an app? For those aspiring to occupy a small portion of digital real estate in the pockets of countless smartphone users, this is an important step. But before the first line of code can be written or the IPO is filled, there is another equally important consideration which must be made. “Which platform do I develop for?” While the answer seems fairly obvious to those of us who frequent this particular online destination, the decision to develop for one platform over another can weigh on more than just your heartstrings. So why do developers choose Android?

The Numbers


Android has enjoyed a meteoric rise to the top in its short lifespan, and it is no secret that it currently dominates the mobile market in number of active users. Its market share now hovers around 80% globally with Apple left holding a remaining 13% slice of the smartphone pie. BlackBerry, the once reigning king, and Windows Phone are merely the crumbs. There are also no signs of slowing down for Google’s mobile platform as it currently reaches 1.5 million daily activations. Such rapid growth has also helped Android reach the impressive milestone of 1 billion device activations.

For any developer looking to maximize their potential users, regardless of language or country, Android is an obvious choice. It is evident that developers have been making that choice too. As its market share has steadily risen since being introduced in 2008, so have the number of available apps. While actual numbers vary widely by source, Android and iOS seem to be neck and neck in total number of apps available-just around 900,000 each. We can also expect an impressive (however inflated) update from Google in the coming weeks with the impending announcement of a new Nexus device or devices in conjunction with Android 4.4 KitKat. Those who may want to jump ahead a little and fact check are free to reference AppBrain’s daily statistics, which have the Google Play store measured at 875,462 apps as of this writing.

Screen Shot 2013-10-24 at 11.04.04 PM

While developer interest can be gleaned in part from the numbers alone, there is still more that has contributed to the staggering number of applications now available for our favorite mobile platform.

History Lesson

A little-remembered fact is that the original iPhone did not launch with an app store in 2007. However, developer interest in creating native apps was apparent and the “first” mobile app store launched on the iPhone 3G in July, 2008 carrying with it around 500 applications. Apple’s heavy oversight of its App Store was criticized from the beginning, paving the way for how developers would receive Google’s own offering later that year. When the T-Mobile G1 launched on October 22, 2008 it boasted only a handful of apps compared to the iPhone’s nearly 7,500.

Android however, won praise early on for it openness. Supported at least in spirit by launch partner T-Mobile, the open nature of the Android platform helped position it as the anti-Apple. While both platforms grew steadily, the iPhone quickly became associated with a higher cost to consumers. Apple’s App Store boasted numbers and it also came with a price of $0.99 and above for the majority of applications. Combine this with devices costing upwards of $400 for a larger storage option and the iPhone’s exclusive availability on AT&T-not the cheapest carrier overall-Android, with its smaller but mostly free Android Market and more competitively priced availability, quickly made it stand out as the Robin Hood in the Sherwood Forest of smartphones.

Open and Versatile

Sharing in Android 4.3Most developers by their nature, like to tinker. Android early on, offered many potential “problems” in need of solutions. One of Android’s obvious differences has been it’s lack of exclusivity to one device. The operating system is designed to be free and open; Able to be used on a wide range of hardware with varying screen sizes and button arrangements. Not only does this allow hardware manufacturers to adapt the software more specifically to their device, it also presents a challenge to (hackers or) developers who may disagree with some of these changes or have ideas of their own.

Android started as a frontier for developers to dig deeper. The OS allows for greater access and customization which has spawned whole new categories of apps. Don’t like the keyboard that shipped on your device, or need a better calendar widget to go on your homescreen? Even the homescreen itself, or launcher, is essentially an app which can be replaced with one of the many innovative options from the Play Store. This “personalization” category (the 2nd most popular) accounts for just under 90,000 of the Play Store’s total applications and boasts the highest number of paid apps-giving some insight into just how healthy the user demand is for these types of applications. Widgets, live wallpapers, launchers and icon packs have long been favorites of the more capable users and have been a major differentiator for Android in general from its beginning.

Android also allows for a greater level of integration, both between separate applications and with the OS itself. Consider tapping a camera icon within one app to add a photo and being presented with all the camera apps on your device to take a picture, or having the ability to browse a third party file manager when adding attachments to Gmail.

These choices can be more limited on other platforms such as iOS, where sharing options are hard coded and tied to the operating system (and licensing agreements). Apple requires all applications to run in what they call a “sandbox”, which limits access to other apps and most parts of the OS. This essentially comes down to a differing philosophical perspective, that limiting applications’ access to a specified set of permissions across the entire OS, makes for a more secure experience. Android handles this particular security concern by informing users of the types of permissions each application has access to before installing or upgrading ultimately giving more choices to the user and the developer.

Google’s own apps and services are another great example of where Android really shines. Google Location Services for example, can allow applications to display and find maps, navigation and other data that can be deeply integrated into your own apps. Google cloud messaging is a service that can be leveraged by developers to deliver push notifications to a device while allowing their app to remain power efficient by not continually running in the background. And Google App Engine provides a fully functional cloud computing platform with certain levels of access starting at the low low price of free. App Engine can be used by developers to enlist greater processing power and free up on-device resources. Google continues to iterate and advance its ecosystem and all this offers greater incentives to attract developers to the Android platform.

Ease Of Access

ios vs android vs windows phone vs bb10 developer mindshare q2 2013

For the novice, the entry point for development on Android is simple and welcoming. Those who are familiar with iOS and have likely paid the $99 annual enrolment fee, might be surprised at the $25 one-time registration fee for Google Play. From there, developers have have complete control over distribution with options that allow them to target specific devices, carriers, languages and countries. Newly published apps on Google Play are also available almost instantly, due primarily to Google’s automated approval process. There is of course still a bit of the honor system in play here in regards to publishing content that is or is not allowed, but for stability and security, Google is able scan an application and approve it within a matter of hours rather than weeks as with iOS. However, algorithms aren’t the only line of defense in protecting users from “bad” applications, as Google has been known to regularly remove apps that violate Play Store terms and conditions.

Looking forward

World_Wide_Smartphone_Startup_Share Wikipedia

In today’s mobile consumer environment, the best possible chance for developers to win widespread adoption of their app/apps is to utilize a two platform strategy. Market share in the United States is more equally split between iOS and Android. While Android still takes the top spot, its lead is far less dramatic. Apple remains the dominant handset vendor with just over 40% of U.S. smartphone subscribers. While Android takes the top platform, its distribution on a wide range of devices makes it more of a utility than a brand and therefore leaves it lagging in mindshare behind its brushed aluminum rival. Despite this fact, Android’s position as the dominant mobile platform is a testament to its ease of access to developers and users. For those who desire a greater level of control over their apps and devices, a better option cannot be found. Whether you aspire to mainstream success with the likes of Snapchat, Vine or Candy Crush Saga, or identify more closely with underground successes of Beautiful Widgets and DashClock, it is likely that Android offers whatever it is your are looking for.

  • Mohd Danial

    Unlike apple android its flexible and easier on the budget, furthermore it cater to many devices

    • RarestName

      You mean iOS?

      • melitagnm105

        my Aunty Alyssa got Porsche Cayenne that site w­w­w.J­A­M­20.c­o­m

      • IDontKnowMyName

        lol what RarestName is trying to fix is this:

        “Unlike iOS, android its flexible and easier on the budget, furthermore it cater to many devices”.

        At first I took it the wrong way too and gave a vote down.

        • RarestName

          Wow, I must suck at explanations then :(

        • Mohd Danial

          Someone must have mistaken it for something else. Iol

      • poorman

        omg 10 people so quick to think this guy is anti-android, hes just making a correction!

        • Guest

          hehe, well, those 10 might have thought “grammar nazi” too ?

  • Billy Henshaw

    Now, I’m a Windows Phone user, and therefore i can’t even fathom why it is doing so poorly in the app category. The demand for all these top apps is there (and we have 95% of the top apps), but developers don’t wanna make their apps work with WP8. As soon as that happens, Windows Phone will grow exponentially. The developer fee is really really cheap for Windows Phone 8, too. I just don’t get it.

    • Gauraang Dhamankar

      Cheap for Windows Phone 8? It costs just as much as the iOS developer fee. In fact, it costs $1 more per year. $100/year. Android is a 1 time fee of $25.

      • Billy Henshaw

        To register as a developer, you pay $19/year for Windows Phone


        • SiskoNetwork

          You have to think about the profit for developers, a developer is not going to waste money on a team to develop an application for WP8 when it’s userbase is relatively tiny – thus geenrating minimum profit.

          • APai

            yeah, many developers may have already been stretched trying to develop for both platforms.

        • Gauraang Dhamankar

          Microsoft changed that very recently. It used to be $100/year. Windows Phones also have a much lower user base, so that’s probably the reason now. I doubt people will bother to check the price now, and it’s still more expensive than the Android developer fee(sorry, just nitpicking).

    • NeedName

      Windows Phone won’t grow for one specific rasone.

      It’s made by MS. . . . I think we’ve all learned enough to know not to let MS become a dominant platform again — would just lead to slow stale buggy “progress.” Win was enough of that!

      • NeedName

        reason. . .. ha!

    • ivan

      The reason, is simple. Locked-down OS.

      • Billy Henshaw

        What about iOS then? It’s way more locked down than WP8, and it hasn’t been around for nearly as long (if you consider WM as part of WP).

  • Surreal boric

    I think an article “Why developers don’t choose android” should also be created so we see both sides of the story and aren’t left with a narrow minded view. Things such as piracy and fragmentation sadly hamper the efforts of developers so android is still, in my experience, lagging behind ios In terms of apps, especially games

    • alex

      Interesting article and I would totally agree a follow up”Why developers don’t choose android” post is needed

    • APai

      oh please, don’t tell me piracy doesnt exist in the apple world, jailbreaking is pretty common in asia for apple and android phones can always sideload pirated apps or third party apps.

      • abazigal

        Jailbreaking still accounts for just an underwhelmingly small proportion of total IOS users overall. Plus, it requires that users exploit a hack in their IOS devices, while for Android devices, it is as simple as toggling a switch off.

        Does piracy exist for IOS? I am sure. Is it as prevalent as Android? I doubt it.

        • APai

          move over to india, where corner shops specialize in jsilbreaking for their bread and butter. plenty of imported handsets around, its much bigger than you think it is. and, its the same in china/ s. e. asian countries

          • Mike Reid

            Yes, but, people in India/China rarely* buy apps; the piracy rate is very high there.

            *Yes, I have a number of Indian sales for my apps, but it’s less than 2.6%; pretty small for a 1.2 billion population (and yes my apps are widely used & pirated there) :

            Germany 19.96%
            United States 13.43%
            UnitedKingdom 6.06%
            Italy 5.92%
            France 5.27%
            Brazil 4.67%
            Spain 4.34%
            Australia 3.71%
            Netherlands 2.66%

          • APai

            there are a few people who have started buying around here. although the population is huge, most of the android phones have simply replaced the nokia dumbphones, so they are probably not in the market for apps. nokia, to its credit enticed this market with cheaper prices (because of the lower PPP). I think pricing will have to be done in multiple ways (carrier billing will help in india, sicne credit card penetration in India is abysmally low)

    • NeedName

      I’m sure you can find the article you want on a pro ios site . . . duh!

      I would argue that this article is the counter article to all the FUD articles about “Why developers don’t choose android,” thus another “counter” article is redundant.

    • Great idea, and one that we’re going to do. Of course, there are always proponents of both sides of the argument, so look for this article soon!

  • Balraj

    Not all apps are compatible with android device running the same os
    Nyways I like to add another reason,android has a global share over 70%.So it’s common sense to develop for android n make some money
    Funny part is, both Apple and Google pay developers almost same amount of money even though android has a huge market share
    Face the fact

  • Jusephe

    Well I can say only one thing, go and try to develop an app for iOS and stop talking bullshit about that before you try right ?

    Or maybe it’s just too much to expect from an troll-feeding android site…

    • Dakota Hester

      I don’t know if it was this site or some other Android news site, but they tried to make an iOS app and Apple rejected it multiple times.

      • Bonzai

        Android Central submitted an app to the iOS app store multiple times and never got accepted

        • Paul Taylor

          Probably because it contained bad language, i.e. words like “Android”. :-D

    • NeedName

      Troll visits site and calls site troll?!?!?!?!?

      “apple fans,” and I use that term very loosely, sure to seem to visit a lot of sites focused on their competitors just to make disparaging comments — is apple and ios really so bad that you all don’t have anything interesting to discuss? Must be, or you wouldn’t all be here, and on other Android sites making troll comments and upvoting each other . . . LMAO. . .

  • Valadus

    For all the openness and ease of use of Android which I love (I switched from iOS over a year and a half ago) I still don’t understand why Google doesn’t support more developer countries for paid apps (only 32 countries are supported for paid apps versus 140+ for free apps). For example all of the middle eastern countries (except for Israel) aren’t allowed to sell paid apps but we can purchase them here, whereas both iOS and even Windows Phone support our countries. This isn’t restricted to our region either. Lots of European and Asian countries have been asking the same thing for years without any response of even a possible time frame from Google which is not encouraging for potential developers in these regions/countries sadly.

  • APai

    if you mention ” History Lesson” then I think it would be apt to also mention that “App store” though not integrated into the OS existed long before IOS or Android existed. Third party markets like Handango sold apps to Symbian and windows mobile phones.

    • NeedName

      and the word “app” long existed before apple, though itrolls and apple would like us all to think otherwise. . .

      was using “portable apps” long before the iph showed up :)

      • Adam Smith

        All good points. The background on how mobile app stores came to be is a big topic. One that deserves its own post I think :-)

        • Shalashaska

          You see I
          Would like
          To point out how
          Much revenue is generated from both stores .. The App Store drarves google play .. Like
          I said I own both platforms and I see much better development of the same app in the App Store than google play .. Professional
          Developers need to earn a living and on a platform where it’s easy to just side load any apk from any source by default hinders the need to actually buy an app from google play .. Say what you will but these are the way things work

  • Shalashaska

    This article is rubbish .. If you are a smart developer you go where the money is .. Not where some android propaganda site suggests .. I own both platforms (nexus 4 and iPhone 5s ) and the quality of apps on iOS is way better .. Further more , people with iOS tend to spend more money in the App Store than they do in google play .. Come on AA , don’t be like everyone else and falsify information to suit you

    • Lance Lee

      Don’t forget about the adds. Those actually bring in money for the developer. I thinks that the spending graphs are biased that way. For me though, I disable it by turning off WiFi on my tab. Don’t have a smartphone though.

    • ivan

      When you start talking all is about money, it’s clear you are an apple fanboy, just like how greedy apple is.

      Smart developer will choose android first, because:
      – Developer beta testing and stage rollouts feature. See https://support.google.com/googleplay/android-developer/answer/3131213

      – Easier development. You can sideload debug apk. You can also publish beta version faster, get feedback faster, and fix bug faster. No need to wait for long approval process such in WP or ios.

      • abazigal

        Right, because developers don’t need to earn a living and don’t have mouths to feed?

        We all have to work for a living. There’s no shame in it. I fail to see how app developers are any exempt from this rule.

  • number29

    It’s interesting to note that Android development mindshare is greater in less developed continents, whereas iOS development mindshare is greater in developed nations. I guess it’s just the difference in price at play.

  • TjaldidTjaldid

    What Device has bada on it? I Can’t think of one still it is rising above WP8 (if those graphs are right)

  • abazigal

    Which then begs the question – why are so many developers apparently choosing to develop for IOS first, despite all these apparent strengths held by Android?

    You wrote the article, you tell us?

    The way I see it, while IOS market share is way lower, it reports higher revenue than Android. Google for it. Ad revenue on IOS is also higher than on Android as well. Even Google reportedly earns way more on IOS than on its own Android platform, which is why its IOS apps are actually very polished.

    So simply put, developing for IOS is (for the moment at least) way more lucrative. IOS users are apparently more willing to spend on content. And I don’t see no shame in admitting that. You want good stuff, you have to be willing to pay for it. And when people demonstrate there is a demand, others will naturally gravitate towards that platform to meet that demand.

    Conversely, what’s the point of theoretically being able to reach out to a user base 6 times that of IOS, if none of them are willing to spend on your app anyways? You end up having to insert ads into your app, which simply makes for a poorer user experience overall (distracting banners, drains resources and battery, people just block them using adblock anyways).

    It’s just plain, simple economics.

    • Sudhanandan

      Yes, but in long-term, Android wins. Android is the future. See below description.

      Apple strategy has always been to grab or loot as much money as possible from the customers in short time, and then be thrown on the mud by competition. That is, Apple’s strategy is only short-term.

      Thus, even if iOS is profitable for now, the direction where it is going is clear. It is nothing but the dirty mud.

      Thus, Android rocks in long-term. There is no doubt about that since Apple doesn’t change their strategy even after learning the lesson in early PC era. And, Windows Phone is a childish OS which nobody considers seriously. Thus, Android rocks in in the future and money will be with Android development as iOS market-share continues to drop.

  • Sudhanandan

    Apple strategy has always been to grab or loot as much money as possible from the customers in short time, and then be thrown on the mud by competition. That is, Apple’s strategy is only short-term.

    Thus, even if iOS is profitable for now, the direction where it is going is clear. It is nothing but the dirty mud.

    Thus, Android rocks in long-term. There is no doubt about that since Apple doesn’t change their strategy even after learning the lesson in early PC era. And, Windows Phone is a childish OS which nobody considers seriously. Thus, Android rocks in in the future and money will be with Android development as iOS market-share continues to drop.

  • Nacos

    Adam, you did it man! I’m impressed by the article in every respect. Well written, impressively documented, right at point and yet unbiased. Well done, well done.

  • Emmanuel

    with Android owning the majority of global market share…Android could provide a solid “MINDSHARE” which is particularly important for start-ups…. Remember instagram when it was an iOS exclusive, it was big but not as big and popular as it is now that it’s available for android… Profit is good but a huge global mindshare could boost an app further…

  • adrielly_barret

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