Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Android First - A New Trend In Mobile Development

In a past post on TechCrunch I talked about how to build a mobile team.  More recently, I have seen a number of companies building apps "Android First".  I.e. while developers used to always build for iPhone first, I have seen more and more companies (such as Heyzap and Taskos) starting off with Android first, and then expanding to iPhone from there.  In some cases, companies end up focusing exclusively on Android due to the large, relatively (to iPhone) uncrowded opportunity, for example, Papaya Mobile.

Why Android First?
  • Ease of distribution = fast iteration.  With android, you can do over the air (OTA) downloads.  This means you are not locked in to going through an official app store for distribution.  This may change as carriers decide to launch their own app stores in certain countries.  However, on average the bar to launching and distributing an app on Android is much lower then on iOS.   This openness helps to accelerate app development and distribution, and makes developers less beholden to Apple policies.
  • Large user base.  Android's installed base has sky rocketed in the last few quarters and it is now larger then iPhone.  While the handset numbers have accelerated, the number of apps and the categories covered are still weak relative to iOS.  This creates opportunities for developers.
  • Lack of competition.  Every time my girlfriend pulls out her Android phone, I ask her about apps I love for the iPhone and she has none of them.  Developers have been focused on iPhone, and Android has lagged for a number of categories (e.g. games). This means there is a lot of white space to build new apps for the android platform in areas that feel more crowded or saturated on iPhone.  Coupled to a large and fast growing userbase, this makes Android an attractive platform to develop for.
  • Worse Design = easier to stand out.  Android is a less mature platform than iPhone, and has looser enforcement of UI principles.  This means a well designed app stands out more on Android relative to iPhone, making differentiation on Android easier as an app developer.  Taskos is an example of an application with really nice design on Android.
  • Less enforcement.  Apple is much more aggressive about policing apps that may compete with its native applications.  On Android, given the ease of downloading any app, developers can build e.g. an iTunes competitor and still distribute it without being blocked by Google.
There are obvious downsides to developing for Android (e.g. less mature advertising ecosystem, increasing fragmentation of the OS, fewer early hipster adopters, etc.).  That said, I think there will be more and more "Android First" companies, and this is a really exciting and interesting trend in the mobile world.

What are the key differences / advantages / disadvantages of Android First development?  Let me know in the comments.

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Update:  Some other examples of Android first apps from the comments:
Kismet, Lightbox, Texty