Are Apps More Crash-Prone on iOS than Android?

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I can’t say I’ve seen a single app crash on my iPhone 4 since I upgraded to iOS 5 last October, but a new study from app-monitoring outfit Crittercism found that apps running on Apple’s newest mobile platform for iPhones, iPads and its iPod Touch media players is presently more prone to app crashes than Google’s Android.

Crittercism offers basic and enterprise-level app analytics and crash reporting for app-makers, providing monitoring software that records app crashes per application launch, then sends that data back to app developers for diagnostic purposes. Forbes reports that the company recently looked at data received from more than 214 million app launches between November and December 2011, finding that on average, apps running on iOS were more likely to crash upon launch than Android apps.

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Here’s where it gets interesting: Crittercism breaks things down according to the percentage of crashes occurring by operating system version. Its basic findings about iOS 5.0.1, the November “battery drain fix” update to iOS 5, are straightforward enough: Apple’s latest release saw the most crashes overall at 28.64% (by OS version, normalized). Add both launch and update flavors of iOS 5 together and that number jumps to 33.44%.

Unsettling for iOS users, sure, but no surprise given iOS 5’s recentness as well as the number of apps developers have to update. But look at crashes in Crittercism’s data across all versions and platforms and iOS still leads by a long shot, accounting for as much as three-quarters of app-launch crashes overall (Android platform devices account for the remaining quarter).

Sort the apps according to crash distribution and you discover another story: The “first quartile” of apps (the topmost for crashes) finds Android users experience crashes only 0.15% of the time, compared with 0.51% for Apple apps. Move to the “second quartile” and Android apps are at 0.73%, but still significantly lower than Apple at 1.47%. In the “third quartile,” Android apps are up to 2.97% and Apple’s at 3.66%.

Why so many crashes? Crittercism CEO Andrew Levy lists the obvious reasons: hardware glitches, network connection problems, memory issues (leaks or running out of), third-party analytics apps (like Crittercism, though Levy singles out Apple’s iAds system) and buggy app updates. But it’s also that many simply don’t update often enough, a problem theoretically exacerbated in Apple’s case by iOS’s lack of an auto-update option (Android, by comparison, has one).

Part of the problem with getting a definitive sense for what’s really going on here is distribution-related: The latest version of Android, “Ice Cream Sandwich,” hasn’t rolled out en masse yet, for instance. When it does, Crittercism sees the tables turning: “I expect as Ice Cream Sandwich just launched and the new Nexus S phone launched (during the study), we’ll expect the same situation to occur (with Android) as what happened (with iOS),” Levy told Forbes.

[Update: A previous version of this story referred to quartile sorting as a matter of application “popularity,” but in fact Crittercism’s quartile sorting refers to distribution by crashes.]

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