iOS or Android: Which platform first?

There are lots of different questions to ask an iOS app development company if you’re looking to build a custom application but one of the most common questions we receive is whether we recommend building both iOS and Android versions of an app at the same time or just one at a time. And if they are built at different times, should iOS or Android app development come first? We touch on this question in Chapter 3 of our book Inspiring Apps: A Business Perspective on Building Mobile Apps, but will provide more insight on this debated topic here.

Should we develop iOS and Android at the same time?

When feasible, we recommend picking a single platform to start with, rather than developing for both at the same time. You may not have that luxury if you are developing an app to release to consumers who all need to have the app at the same time-perhaps in conjunction with a film or other product release.

If it’s possible, though, we think one at a time is better because it will enable you to learn from your customers on the first platform. Unless an app is extremely simple, it will go through several iterations before it offers the desired experience. Trying to manage learnings across two platforms is cumbersome. Instead, the feedback and refinements from the first platform can be leveraged to speed development on the second platform, saving both time and money.

What factors should we consider in picking an OS?

When advising customers whether to build an app on iOS or Android first, we consider these factors to help guide the decision.

Industry and Demographics: You may find that there is an industry bias for Operating System (OS) that affects your project. For instance, we found iOS devices to be more prevalent in medical applications while Android seems to be more popular in construction. If you don’t have industry insight available, try checking analytics from your website to determine user platforms. This might be helpful in deciding what type of platform may be best suited. You can also use sites similar to to discover applications and software that would be more suited to that platform. If one platform is being used far more than the other, you know a preference exists and should develop accordingly. Likewise, depending on the market you are serving, you also may find that there are age-related differences affecting whether you should develop for iOS or Android first.

Market Share: For many years, Android has captured the majority of the global smartphone OS market share, and their lead increased even further in the first quarter of this year. Android is at a significant advantage in emerging markets in Asia and Africa, and even in the US, Android outpaces iOS by a solid 10%. If you intend to produce an app for the general public and do not know the OS preference of your target audience, these overall market numbers are worth considering.

OS Adoption Rates: Apple has a remarkable track record of getting its users to upgrade to current versions of its OS. As of May this year, 84% of users are on the current iOS. By contrast, Android adoption is much slower. As of July this year, only 13% of users upgraded to the current OS. On that platform, users don’t always get their OS upgrades from Google. Distribution of updates may be governed by a mobile carrier or device manufacturer, unlike Apple who handles the distribution of their OS updates exclusively. Developing for and supporting a smaller number of OS versions leads to quicker development and testing, and less support in the long run.

Speed and Ease of Development: Some software developers state that creating an Android app takes 2-3 times longer than creating an iOS app. One developer tracked the code written when building the same app on both platforms. The data (across six different projects) showed that they had to write approximately 40% more code and spend 30% more time on Android than iOS. While we have not calculated the numbers in that way, we have noticed that iOS development and testing tends to take less time than Android.
Keep in mind that Android accessibility to a wide range of devices means more devices to test on and support. Ensuring that your app runs smoothly on a number of different devices can be tedious work. With iOS, you develop for a limited type of device (iPhone, iPad, and iPod touch) making testing and support easier.

Required Frequency of Updates: Android allows frequent app updates and publishing an app is almost effortless. Simply deploy the app to the Google Play store and it is available for download typically within a few hours. Google Play allows app updates multiple times, even within one day. This freedom is beneficial if critical issues crop up that need to addressed quickly. Google Play also allows developers to publish multiple versions of the same app (alpha and beta) to ensure developers can test the app live, fix bugs, and launch it to the wider audience.

Contrast that to Apple’s strict policies which will limit your release flexibility and updates. Publishing an app on iOS requires levels of approval from Apple’s team and reviews that can take several days. Apple’s app approval turn-around time requires more planning for releases. However, through TestFlight, Apple does support previewing versions of an app with up to a thousand beta testers before releasing it for wide distribution in the App Store.

Profit: While there are many more devices running Android and the Google Play store has more downloads, Apple’s App Store made twice the revenue in the first 3 quarters of 2015. iOS apps make more money as iOS users generally make more purchases on their devices. At the WWDC conference this year, Apple’s CEO Tim Cook, stated that Apple paid $50 billion directly to developers over the years.

Should we develop for iOS or Android first?

If you’ve considered all the above factors, and neither platform is the clear winner, we’d generally encourage starting with iOS for a US-focused app. Our reasons are speed to market, lower development cost, and revenue generation potential.

If you’d like to talk more about your particular situation, or have other questions on this topic, please contact us. We’d love to hear from you.