I’ve been trying hard to sell you on the need to have a mobile software strategy for your business. If I’ve managed to convince you thus far, you may be wondering where to begin. You do of course need a good idea to start with, but very soon you’ll need to decide not only who your ideal customer is, but what kind of device she carries. Targeting Apple’s iOS devices is a must-do, slam-dunk, no-brainer, but less obvious is what to do about the Android platform.
Before jumping into the Android pool, it would be good to take an eyes-wide-open approach to the current factors causing developer malaise in the Android world. The largest of these include:
- Lower sales. Looking at raw market share, Android would seem to be a necessary play if you want to make money. Unfortunately raw market share doesn’t tell the whole story, but sales data definitely help color it in. The chart below is for Audiobooks, a very popular app that’s been downloaded over 2 million times.
If this chart is even closely representative of the entire mobile app ecosystem, Android is clearly not the place to make your initial investment.
- Hardware fragmentation. By this count, there are at least 1,443 known varieties of Android devices in the wild. Trying to support them all with a native app would be a sure-fire going-out-of-business strategy. The cost would simply be unsustainable. On the other hand, not supporting them all is guaranteed to attract a gaggle of poor reviews and 1-star ratings.
- Slow OS adoption rate. As seen below, compared with iOS, user adoption of new versions of the Android operating system are extremely slow, meaning developers must support more versions of Android for longer periods of time, and possibly delay the release of new features that rely on more current versions of the OS. Translation: more cost.
- Customer Mindset. The Android customer mindset is not the same as that of iOS customers. David Smith, developer of Audiobooks, captures it well:
I think most droid users have never heard of the android market, whereas most iOS users get their phone and then immediately go looking for apps. That is just anecdotal, but it seems like a lot of people just view it as the ‘free’ phone option at the cell phone store…sure there are people who are deliberately choosing it but I’d guess that is a minority.
This helps illuminate why one can observe a tendency to favor, if not outright expect, free apps in the Android marketplace. Check out this thread as an example (WARNING: strong adult language). Quality apps sometimes struggle to get a fair shake in a marketplace where the mindset leans toward apps having to be both all-things-to-all-people and free to boot.
These four issues, especially #2 and #3 are getting bigger, not smaller. Why deal with all this friction when you’re just starting out?
Bottom line: It’s not necessary to support Android as you begin your app development journey. It may seem like you’re missing a huge opportunity, but clearly that’s not the case, at least not now. Start with iOS, become wildly successful, and then tactically approach Android. Based on your market research, support a carefully selected, small handful of Android devices and operating system levels that your ideal customers are likely to be carrying. This list will change over time, but managing it to a small set will be key to being profitable on Android for the foreseeable future.
What are your feelings on whether apps should be free?