The Orange View (on hiatus) Because Apple is great but it isn't perfect

7Apr/11Off

Apple fans need to update their understanding of apps on Android

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.

 

Notes:

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.

Posted by Aaron Pressman

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  1. You ignored probably the most important app store statistic: revenue.
    Android’s software revenues grew by $91 million over last year to $105 million, which might sound impressive yet RIM and Nokia actually made more money off their irrelevant app stores.
    Meanwhile, Apple’s app store revenue grew by $1,013 million, more than 11 times as much real growth in terms of revenue dollars, totaling $1.7 Billion in revenue for 2011.
    There aren’t just “some” areas where the Android app store is behind, there are major gaps, especially the one that counts the most–profit.

  2. As a long time Mac user and aficionado, it is kind of funny to watch this “number of applications available” argument play out in reverse. This time it is Apple with all the software and Android/Google trying to shore up developers.

    Seems Apple/Mac users would be more sympathetic and understand the same arguments—”The important applications are there. And for those that aren’t there are alternatives”.

    But from a user’s perspective, it still isn’t as seamless as it was on the Mac. The different Android platforms are a legitimate issue, as you mention with MLB.com and other video providers, never mind how much of an issue it is to developers. No doubt this is one of the issues Google is trying to rectify with Honeycomb (also trying to be a tougher competitor to Bing/Nokia, Bing being Google’s real competition, not the media nurtured competition between Apple and Google. Just remember what Google’s business is. It has nothing to fear from Apple “winning”).

    The different platforms aren’t just a matter of older hardware vs newer hardware. It is also a matter of what the _carriers_ are doing with Android, not just the handset makers. At least with Windows, there were only two players, the box maker and Microsoft. From a user perspective, Apple does a better job of keeping the variables in check. iPhone users WANT iPhone. A lot of Android users SETTLE for Android. That is not an unimportant distinction. At least this next year (with Verizon with iPhone) we’ll find out if I m correct.

    Joe