An awful lot of popular writing and blogging about technology ignores the real interests of the users of technology. Many widely read Apple bloggers, for example, are current or former software developers. Nothing wrong with that but it dramatically skews their views of some issues and makes their conclusions unreliable for the vast majority of ordinary users.
I'm thinking primarily today about the needs and desires of smart phone users who want a great phone on a great network with great applications. There are some great Android phones on even more carriers than sell the iPhone, they come with a greater variety of monthly plan costs, and Android has some built-in advantages that users may prefer over iOS. Variety of hardware also offers choices for people who want a physical keyboard, small form factors or 4G service, for example.
But what about apps?
After all, Google's Android app market started out well behind the Apple iTunes app store a few years ago. And Android's mixture of different carriers and handsets and software tweaks didn't make for a straightforward app purchasing experience, either. There was certainly a lot of crap in the Android market at the outset.
The reality today is that things have changed rapidly and tedious Apple fan bloggers need to catch up. Android's app experience -- from the range and quality of apps to the payment and installation process -- is dramatically improved and lots of Android users are taking advantage. It may need more improvement (see below) but it's pretty darn close already.
An important piece of new evidence comes from Apple Insider this morning. They report that 13 of the 16 companies taking money from Kleiner Perkins famed $200 million "iFund" for developing iPhone apps are also developing Android apps. The killer quote comes from Matt Van Horn, vice president of business development for Path Inc., which makes a photo sharing app.
"Android is absolutely a top priority. We're looking to have team parity between the two platforms," he said in the article.
Parity is the key word here. As a recent switcher¹, I can attest that almost every app I used on my iPhone I've found for my Android phone (there are even some great apps that don't exist on the iPhone). I have Facebook, Evernote, Twitter (with no dickbar), Angry Birds, ESPN, WeatherBug and on and on.
And I'm not alone. As noted on TOV recently, some game developers are finding greater sales from Android downloads lately. The Android app market is nearing 4 billion total downloads, according to unofficial market watcher Androlib. It only crossed the 1 billion level last July so that's a quadrupling in nine months. Nine months after the iTunes app store hit 1 billion downloads (in April, 2009), it was only at 3 billion (in January, 2010).
Yes, yes, there are still some areas where the Android app experience is behind iOS. Apple adopted a single digital rights management system for iOS so it's relatively easy for video apps to flourish, for example. Android's fragmentation is at its worst for companies that want to lock down video content, since DRM and DRM work arounds can vary by carrier, handset and Android version.
That's why it's not surprising to hear that the Major League Baseball video app is purchased five times more on iOS than on Android, where it only works on 11 phone models. Or that there are still no native apps for Netflix, Hulu Plus and other video content services (though how much longer they will be on iOS is also an open question right now).
So if you are a regular user like me and you are thinking about your next smart phone, it's not an easy decision. There are many factors you should weigh. But the lack of apps on Android is not one. The lack of legal video content, sure. But app parity is awfully close.
¹For what it's worth, I am also a happy iPad and iPad2 user and would be thrilled to switch back to the next iPhone if it offered some compelling features that leap-frogged my Nexus S.