Why iOS Doom-and-Gloomers Misunderstand the Mobile Market

A startup advisor explains why third-party developers haven't gone Android-first.

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When I meet with startups to learn about their new mobile apps — a task that occupies a pretty meaningful percentage of my time — the following facts tend to be true:

  • It’s rare for a startup that’s launching a major new app to not support iOS, unless it’s something like the Aviate alternative homescreen which just can’t be done on Apple’s operating system.
  • Though it’s common enough for said apps to also show up on Android at the same time as on iOS, it’s far from a given that they will.
  • Some iOS-first apps do arrive for Android within weeks or a few months, and it’s rare for a startup to simply say it doesn’t care about Android. But it’s not unusual for Android support to be something a company says it’s contemplating, but doesn’t plan to offer on any specific timetable.

My takeaway from all this — that iOS is still the most important mobile platform when it comes to third-party apps, despite Android’s huge lead in global market share — is anecdotal. But even though I think it’s also objective, I cheerfully acknowledge that I don’t understand all the dynamics at work.

Which is why I found a new post by startup advisor Steve Cheney, titled “Why Android First is a Myth,” such an informative read. Cheney points out several factors which help iOS and hurt Android:

  • The U.S. remains the center of innovative mobile app development, and iOS’s market share is particularly strong here.
  • It’s expensive and complicated to develop apps for Android, and new startups are typically on tight budgets.
  • It’s much easier to make money from in-app purchases and ads on iOS.
  • Big tech companies buy small, innovative, iOS-first companies, and the founders they pick up as part of the acquisition continue to skew their efforts towards iOS, thereby continuing to keep the iOS ecosystem healthy.

It’s not hard to find folks — Business Insider’s Henry Blodget is a leading example — who think that Android’s market share will inevitably lead to it becoming the dominant mobile platform, appwise, much as Windows creamed the Mac in the PC-centric era. Such people usually argue that the only way for Apple to prevent this is by offering cheaper phones and tablets in the interest of boosting iOS’s percentage of the market.

The story could play out as Blodget and others believe it will. But it seems to me that if Android becoming the dominant platform for third-party apps was inevitable, it would have already happened. It hasn’t, and Cheney helps explain why.