Android Is Having A Cinderella Moment

For years, the Android smartphone operating system stood as Google's neglected stepsister aside Apple's radiant iPhones and beloved iOS. That's all changing now.

glass slippers

For years, the Android smartphone operating system stood as the neglected stepsister aside the iPhone’s radiant, beloved iOS. Tens of thousands of suitors--app developers including large corporations and rising creative talents--hurried first to build something for iOS phones. Only belatedly, if at all, would they build something for Android devices.

Today, like the once-dejected heroine, Android is the belle of the ball, with developers as her Prince Charming. They have realized that Android is now at least as important as iOS--and sometimes more so.

Here’s what changed: Android smartphones have become the most popular in the U.S., by a long shot. According to a September 2011 Nielsen study, 40% of all smartphones in the U.S. run Android, vs. 28% for iOS (most of the rest are using RIM’s BlackBerry OS). The study also shows Android leading iPhones as the type that consumers want to get in the future.

Beyond market share, tech teams and business owners find the whole process of making and releasing an Android app easier and quicker--from coding to launching and making money.

Companies are also taking a closer look at their customers. “I believe the Android users are more hardcore than the iOS users,” said Gary Gattis, CEO of mobile game developer Spacetime Studios. Those “hardcore” customers are the ones playing Spacetime’s massively multiplayer 3-D online games.

Spacetime launched its first title, Pocket Legends, on iOS in April, 2010. Despite a seven-month lag for the Android version, the split between users is already 50/50. For its newest title, Star Legends (released in August), Spacetime went with Android first.

Android appeals to Spaectime’s target demographic: men and women 18 to 29 years old. Their iOS users are much younger--boys from 13 to 18, many playing on a parent’s iPod touch. The kids may be equally passionate, but they don’t have credit cards to purchase in-game upgrades. Given these benefits for game companies, it’s not surprising that they are among the biggest proponents of Android.

Android also propelled sales for Tapjoy, a tech company that enables app makers to offer free content in exchange for some task to be completed by their app users. To get features like new weapons in a game, for example, or additional messages in a free texting app, users might watch a Ford commercial, sign up for Netflix, or install and use the Bing search app.

According to Tapjoy’s CEO, Mihir Shah, Android users take up these offers over twice as often as those on iPhones. One obvious reason: Apple banned pay-per-install apps in April, taking away a big chunk of what Tapjoy can offer to users of iOS apps and devices.

Despite these trends, why do some companies remain fixated on the creation of iPhone apps, and nothing else?

Piracy is one downside. Without the strict policing of Apple’s App Store, the anything-goes Android Market makes it easy for pirates to simply download an app and with a few minor tweaks, re-upload it as their own product. According to a recent Yankee Group study, these piracy issues can put a dent in the profitability of an Android app, too.

In addition, the market situation has only changed recently. Research firm comScore found iOS phones had a bigger market share until around November 2010, when Android began shooting past. Businesses may be catching up, still.

It can take as long as six months to design and build a complex app of any kind, says Alex Harrington, CEO of location-based dating service MeetMoi, which launched first on Android (and which FastCompany.com previously covered here). Many companies started when iOS was the clear choice. The market changed while their app was in the shop.

Sometimes the lifestyle of the app-makers holds sway. Take Miso, a social TV app that allows people to, among other things, see what their friends are watching. “The thing about our platform is, it’s something that we can use ourselves,” said CEO Somrat Niyogi. “Let’s look around our entire office at what people have: iOS, iOS, iOS.”

Like many app makers, Niyogi says that Miso must now give iOS and Android equal attention. "We had this bad history with Android where it was a second-class citizen,” said Scott Lahman, CEO of Gogii, maker of the popular free-texting app Text Plus. “And [now] it could turn out that Android beats iOS for some features." The app’s new voice notes feature and Facebook integration, for example, is debuting in the Android version.

Developers’ device and OS bias can work in Android’s favor, too. “More recently and for a couple of reasons we are seeing a clear and significant case of developers going to Android first and possibly even avoiding iOS altogether,” said Brad Spirrison, managing editor of app-review site Appolicious.

Localicious (which spun out from WhitePages.com) is a provider of tips on popular venues in major U.S. cities. The Android version of Localicious debuted on July 13, and two updated versions have already followed. The company has yet to provide an iOS version of its app.

Company spokesperson Liz Powell explained in an email: “Currently, we don’t have a firm timeline for launching Localicious on iOS since we have some additional Android projects, one being the Localicious tablet version, that are higher priority in the interim.” Localicious can churn out new versions so quickly because no approval is needed to put them in the Android Marketplace.

According to Gary Gattis of Spacetime Studios, getting the App Store's stamp of approval can take from one to as many as six weeks. Android revisions can go up instantly. MeetMoi’s Alex Harrington compares it to upgrading a website.

While that fact of the Android apps ecosystem isn’t always great for users, who can get a lot of crummy software (and malware) from some Android app stores, it’s great for developers. For one, they can plan on, control, and promote their official launch date when it comes to Android apps. That was a big factor for Localicious. It's also impossible with iOS apps, because Apple isn't in the habit of making guarantees as to when an app will gain approval and move into the store.

Spacetime Studios set its much-anticipated launch of Star Legends, a sci-fi genre multiplayer online game, for August 8 on Android. It didn’t offer the iOS App Store its game until August 25, though. The delay gave Spacetime a chance to refine their game. Not only does Apple have a sometimes-long approval process for any app, it must also approve every modification to the app. “These games are very complex,” said Gattis. “And the probability [that there will be] bugs on [a first] release is huge.” With Android, Spacetime could release updated versions until their game was sufficiently tweaked and refined. They sent the iOS version to Apple, later.

The main reason for Android’s rise is basic math, in the end: Android apps get into the market quicker, where more people can try or buy them.

[Images via Flickr: 1. Glass slippers,Glamhag 2. iPhones, Yutaka Tsutano 3. Rubber stamp, The Both And 4. Cinderella the_queenofcurves]

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11 Comments

  • F Silva

    It is funny that everytime a piece of news comes out in favor of android or Windows, Apple users come out swinging. It is just competition, people! In the end it is good for all of us, Windows, Apple,  Android or even blackberry users. We cannot deny that Android phones and tablets and phones are pushing apple to get better. I am a geek, not denying, and I love the fact each one of them have something cool to add. Even windows 8 looks very promising. to start offending people because they like droids more than apple doesn't seem fair. By the way, If you are buying iphone, you cannot say you are a leader. In reality youa are a follower. You are doing what most are doing, correct, so you are a follower. In this case the droid buyer is the leader. He is not following the majority. No Offense. Again I think they are equally cool devices, not better or worse. 

  • Sean Captain

    Wow, lots of comments. Sorry it took me a little while to get back to you. Please note that I never said if Android is a good or bad thing, just that it's becoming more poplar and developers are taking note. 

    Thanks Don, for that clarification on the Nielsen study. I could have done a better job with that.

    Art, I did think about fragmentation, but it seemed too much to squeeze into here.

  • KH

    "Let the Lemmings run wherever they they want, I love my iPhone."

    This could potentially be, the most ironic thing I've seen all week. And I was just hanging out with some hipsters.

  • Don Lorenzet

    This writer does a shoddy and misleading job of conveying the results of the Nielsen Survey to suggest that future intent to buy an Android phone vs an iPhone is higher in favor of Android, 
    In fact, the Nielsen results say: "Among those who say they are likely to get a new smartphone in the next year, approximately one third say they want their next smartphone to be an iPhone and one third say they want an Android device"  So, it's a dead heat according to the survey and only early adopters say they'd buy Android.Put that into perspective: the iPhone is one phone, which is now 14 months on the market. yet it is the single best selling smartphone in the world. There are some 140+ Android flavored phones out now, from over 2 dozen manufacturers. Many of them have gotten into consumer's hands as buy one, get one free. Consumers have not had to pay a big price for them. And it is questionable, when it comes to actual purchases in the future how willing they will be to pay and put a premium on Android.

    Meanwhile, Apple will open up the U.S. market to more telcos next month with the iPhone 5, and the demand right now for that next Apple product is unprecedented. Once again, people will line up around the world to get it. 

    So, let's see what the intent to buy registers like after Christmas, in the next Nielsen survey.  

    And don't believe everything a biased author like this one tells you about mass market adoption of Android.

  • Rick E.

    A lot of people also buy Dell computers running Windows, but you couldn't give me one.  Just like hundreds of gaming software in the PC world, most of those Android apps are crap and are open invitations to malware.  Who needs it?  My mama taught me long ago to be a leader, not a follower. Let the Lemmings run wherever they they want, I love my iPhone.

  • Art Tech

    Really great article!  But the one thing that was never mentioned that has a strangle hold on Android is "FRAGMENTATION".  You see, there has to be quality control from the top down or else you will have tons and tons of fragmentation.  It's just a simple business model that Apple has that's all.  And they have the right to do so as a business.  So much as Android also has a right to be "fragmented".

  • Sardar Mohkim Khan

    It should be noted that the massive growth of the Android has to be credited to the hundreds of mobile devices in every price range compared to one unitary price and model for the iPhone, iPad, etc.

    There is a high value proposition nonetheless - more apps, ease of access, affordability, easy updates/tweaks all this bundle up to make Android the first choice for Developers [eventually]. And even companies would focus more on the numbers backing Android, i mean 40% market share is massive.

    Apple has its magic without a doubt. But that magic is bound to fade away pretty soon and with Windows jumping the bandwagon more seriously with the Windows Phone and the Nokia deal, expect a stiffer challenge for the iPhone.
    http://twitter.com/smohkim

  • Deepak Nayal

    It is no surprise that Android is going to grow and become much bigger than iOS. After all, iOS is backed only by one company whereas Android has almost every other mobile company backing it up. So it obviously makes sense that Android is becoming the mobile platform of choice for app developers.  However, there is a dark horse in this race - HTML 5. Based on the early signals, HTML 5 has got great potential of becoming the development platform of choice for mobile apps.

    Deepak
    http://www.olsup.com/

  • Amy

    I love my iPhone, but the longer I work with an app company, the more I can see the value in owning an Android.

  • Richard

    Wow !! - that preposition -  "with" -  says so much about the relationship - not "for" , or "at" but "with".  I really got something important about work in the 21st century from that .