iOS vs Android Development: Which Platform to Build Your App for First?

11 Min Read • Aug 17, 2020

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Erika Kramarik

Full-Stack Marketer

Author Image

As a full-stack mobile app development agency, or as we like to be called a product studio at your service, we’ve worked with numerous clients who were confused about choosing the right development platform for their product. For a client who’s developing their very first mobile app, picking the right mobile platform is a crucial decision and one that could impact their entire product development process.

The debate is between iOS and Android, which are the leading players on the market nowadays. Platforms like Microsoft don’t even come close to the market share that these two have. If you want your product to succeed, there is no third option. But deciding between one or the other depends on various factors which we’re going to detail for you. Hopefully, by the end of this article, you’ll have a better understanding of the differences between iOS app development and Android app development, and you’ll be able to make an informed decision. Let’s get started!

4 Crucial factors to consider when choosing Android vs iOS development

When it comes to deciding between Android or iOS for your first mobile app, there are certain factors and numbers to take into account. Choosing either one or the other will depend a lot on your business goals, your target audience, your market, and so on. We’ll go through the main factors that you should be paying attention to. 

1. Global smartphone usage

Let’s start with a bit of overall context. 

Recent studies show that mobile phones now account for over half of the time spent online on a global level. According to GSMA’s 2020 Mobile Economy report, mobile penetration reached 67% of the global population at the end of 2019. In Europe, the percentage is even higher, at 86%, and it’s expected to reach 87% by 2025. The numbers are similar in North America, where mobile penetration closed 2019 at 83%. 

Additionally, data gathered from App Annie reveals that smartphone users downloaded more than 200 billion mobile apps in 2019 and spent $120 billion on app-related purchases over the past year. 

Clearly, mobile is where it’s at, so developing an app for your business is the best path to reaching your target audience. 

2. Global market share

According to recent statistics, smartphones that run the Android operating system held a 74% share of the global smartphone market in June 2020, with Apple taking over 25%. Android has been the market leader for several years now, due to the fact that it’s used by more brands and manufacturers than iOS, which is exclusive to Apple. You might now be tempted to say ‘Android it is!,’ but you shouldn’t jump to that conclusion just yet. Things are a bit more nuanced when it comes to the criteria for choosing Android over iOS or vice versa. 

Source: StatCounter Global Stats – OS Market Share

3. Revenue

Getting back to what platform to choose, you are most probably thinking about choosing between Android or iOS because they rule the mobile industry market share. But market share alone doesn’t tell the whole story. How much revenue each platform generates might be a more relevant story, and in this area, things couldn’t be more different.

Although Android currently dominates market share with 74%, Apple’s iOS platform dominates in terms of revenue. In 2019, the iOS App Store generated $46.6 billion in revenue, while Google Play revenue stood at $24.8 billion, according to Business of Apps

4. Brand loyalty & spending power

As a brand, Apple has always enjoyed a loyal fan base of users who chose to switch from Android to iOS and never looked back. Recently, however, that trend has started to reverse, with more and more iOS users making the switch to Android. According to DazeInfo, one out of four iPhone X users moved to Android between October 2019 and June 2020. A major reason causing this shift is the premium that Apple charges for its mobile products when the Android market offers something in every price range. 

On the other hand, iOS users have more spending power compared to Android users. Users spent $15 billion on iOS apps during the first quarter of 2020 – 5% more than they did the year before. By comparison, Android users spent $8.3 billion on Google Play apps in Q1, again, 5% more than in Q1 2019. 

Consequently, if one of your main business goals is brand loyalty, you can’t go wrong with either platform. If, however, you’re planning on developing a premium app, you might want to start with iOS, as Apple users obviously have more spending power when it comes to mobile apps. 

Is this enough to help you decide between an iOS or Android app? Of course not. There are other important factors that come into play, and we’ll go through each one so you can make an informed decision.

Is it better to develop for iOS or Android first? Three criteria to help you choose

If the factors we just talked about only make you feel more confused about which platform to choose for your first mobile app, don’t worry, we’re not done yet. We’re going to walk you through four main criteria that should help you make an informed decision, to make sure that you choose the right path for the success of your product.

1. Where is your target audience?

As Android is aiming for massive adoption, they have great success in emerging markets like Asia, Africa and South America. iOS instead focuses on premium customers and markets like North America and Western Europe. 

Despite its premium market strategy, iOS has always struggled to keep up with the way Android is spreading. Looking into statistics on operating system usage by countries, we can see that most of the countries use Android-primarily instead of iOS, even premium markets. However, the differences are not as dramatic as they were a few years ago, and iOS seems to be gaining traction. In the U.S., for instance, there are now more users who prefer iOS over Android. 

To help you paint a better picture, here are some of the countries that we took into consideration to see if you should build on Android or iOS first. The data below is from June 2020, extracted from Statcounter:

iOS vs Android Market Share | Tapptitude

2. How do you plan to make money?

What is your planned monetisation strategy for your mobile app? In-app purchases, a paid app, or advertising? When it comes to in-app purchases, Apple’s got the upper hand. The App Store generated $32.8 billion from in-app purchases in the first half of 2020, 24.7% more than it did the year before, according to SensorTower. By comparison, Google Play recorded $17.3 billion in in-app purchases, up 21% year-over-year. So, if your business strategy is focused around in-app purchases or subscriptions, then you should know Apple users tend to spend more than Android users in this regard. 

3. Are you building an e-commerce app?

If you’re planning on developing an e-commerce app that allows users to purchase products directly from their mobile devices, then you’ll want to know how likely platform users are to purchase things online. Data shows that during the second quarter of 2019, 28.5% of all digital e-commerce dollars in the United States were spent via mobile devices. If we look at the average spend of a user over a period of over 90 days, an iOS user will spend almost $20 to the $11.50 of an Android user. 

Why not build for both platforms from the start?

When you have a great mobile app idea that you believe is going to revolutionise how lots of people do things today, your first thought might be to make it available to as many users as possible. That usually means having it on every mobile device possible: iPad, iPhone, Android phones, smartwatches, and so on. So, you might be asking yourself, “why do I really have to choose between iOS and Android in the first place?”

The most common answer to this question is related to costs. If your business is in its early stages, you don’t really have the required resources – time, money or patience –  and therefore you cannot afford to go for both. The best approach in this situation is to look at your target audience and figure out what mobile platforms they use. That way, you can be where your target audience is, and find ways to turn them into customers and users of your mobile app.

The second answer is related to validation. As convinced as you may be of the potential of your idea, the real test is going to happen at the first interaction between product and core audience. Starting with one platform at a time might help you save a lot of money and a lot of time because you might find that your app doesn’t appeal to your target audience.

It’s important to make sure you reach product/market fit before you scale your app and release it onto other platforms. This is the first step in the consumer validation process, and it can make or break your product because you’ll learn if there is enough demand for your product on the market. Your lowest-risk approach is to create your app on one platform and test it repeatedly until you are sure you’ve reached product/market fit and there is a high demand for your product and you’ve got a stable revenue. Then you can move on to scaling your app and releasing it onto the other operating platform. 

How to decide on a platform when you’re on a tight budget

We constantly advise clients who are tight on resources or are venturing into uncharted waters to do two things:

  1. Start with one mobile platform, be it iOS or Android, depending on what your target audience prefers;
  2. Define the minimum mobile product that would deliver the core value for your users, and plan to launch a Minimum Viable Mobile Product (or Mobile MVP) first.

Starting with an MVP can be a really smart move, as it allows you to mitigate the biggest entrepreneurial risk (building a product nobody wants) by testing the market really fast and with minimum investment. If it’s done right, launching a mobile MVP can offer valuable insights into what your users need, how they use the product, and your abilities to get traction with the product core value.

In our experience, startups that do this have better chances of not running out of money before Product/Market Fit, and fundamentally increase their chances of building a sustainable business on mobile.

We’ve designed a special Mobile MVP package for mobile entrepreneurs just like you.

When to start with both iOS and Android from the get-go

There are a few cases when starting on both platforms is the choice to make. This strategy is more likely going to be a consideration for companies that have more resources and are well-established. 

It’s also a good solution for a tested business model that’s being introduced in a new market. However, even with large corporations and global brands, we like to have discussions to see if a particular platform makes more sense than the other. 

Additionally, any mobile app that requires a wide network of users, such as a ticketing app, needs to be multi-platform to ensure that you are not missing out on a major user base.

Conclusion: the Android vs iOS balancing act continues

The short version of a conclusion to this debate is that each of these major mobile platforms has its own advantages and disadvantages. Android allows you to reach a broader audience, while Apple’s audience is more engaged and loyal. 

What you really need to do in order to make a good decision is to know your audience really well, understand how you want your app users to use your product, and anticipate what the next development step will be for you once you’ve validated a market need and got some initial traction. Without checking off these points, it’s really a blind choice between Android and iOS. 

To decide what mobile platform you’re going to build your product for, you first need to walk through the steps to:

  • Understand your core audience: who will be your early adopters?
  • Understand your business model: how will you be making money?
  • Map your components: how is your product made up? 
  • Map out your business vision: what do you want to achieve mid-to-long-term?
Erika Kramarik

Erika Kramarik

Full-Stack Marketer

Erika is a full-stack marketer passionate about the intersection between technology and social impact. She mixes research with content design and a human touch to help people and startups succeed in delivering value through their work. When not writing or talking to people, you’ll find her reading or quoting Hamilton for any life situation.

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