TAG | iPhone
Happy New Year to everyone, first of all. And second, I hope you managed to get your hands on an iPad in the past 6 months because if you haven’t, you’re going to want one.
Why? Because 2011 is definitely going to be the Year of the iPad. Not by an inch, more like a mile. Let me explain why…
Now that I own an iPad, I finally get the hoopla over these devices. I wasn’t impressed when they came out and wasn’t really planning on getting one for the holidays. Thanks to a generous visit from Santa, who despite my best efforts to the contrary with acerbic blog posts considered me worthy of one under the tree, I now own one along with my wife. And I’m impressed. Very impressed.
iPad: The Must-Have Intermediate Computing Device
I’ll coin a new term for tablets: intermediate computing devices, although I’m hoping someone comes up with a better one in the future. To me, the tablet represents a new class of device that isn’t quite in the same class as netbooks and mobile PCs, although categorically they tend to be lumped together. These devices fill a gap where a PC is too cumbersome, but a smartphone isn’t powerful enough, or even large enough. The iPad is clearly king of the tablets right now. I say that, not as an Apple Fanboi, but as a solid convert to the notion this device does actually have a place in your house when you already own a desktop, laptop, media computer (e.g. AppleTV), and smartphone.
Each platform has tremendous utility within its own domain (smartphones are great for keeping in touch on the go, but lousy for typing blog posts, and the laptop is strong where the smartphone is weak, etc). It wasn’t until I actually owned the iPad that I suddenly found places where I really wanted more than my smartphone but much less than my laptop.
Let’s look at a specific example: my wife and I both love Rummy Tile. Getting the boxed game out after the kids are in bed is a bit of a hassle, and we can’t play on anything except a very flat and hard surface. Enter the iPad: each of us downloaded an iPad version and can play against each other sitting in bed via Bluetooth. Comfort and convenience, meet marital competition (For the record, my wife continues to beat me overall, even at the electronic version).
Not satisfied with that? How about this: I leave my email open on my laptop downstairs all the time. Doing so prevents my iPhone from getting email, so I find myself having to run down 2 levels at night to shut down Outlook so I can see email in the morning when I get up. Not with my iPad! I installed Team Viewer and can now remotely login to my laptop, shut it down, or do anything I need on the computer (like grab an attachment from an old email, which I frequently need as well).
Of course, don’t forget the real estate improvement over the smartphone genre: web browsing is a treat by comparison. My wife and I need to lookup things all the time, and the iPad is the perfect device for on-demand, quick-and-easy web surfing. No waiting for boot time of the laptop, no struggle to read the data displayed on the smartphone.
And…The Competition Sucks
After I got the iPad, I thought I’d check out the competition and see how the lay of the land was looking by comparison. It’s not good for the Android folks right now:
- The Dell Streak requires a data plan from, yep, you guessed it, AT&T. It’s cheap if you get the two year data-only plan at $30/month, but as pricey as the iPad otherwise.
- The Google Android tablet has very mediocre reviews to date on Amazon. When the “best helpful review” for it says, “For the price it’s not bad…”, you know you’re in trouble.
- Two of the most promising contenders that generated huge buzz (Notion Ink and the Kno (aimed at college students)) just made the Wired Vaporware 2010 list. Oops.
- The Maylong $99 tablet sold at Walgreens got scathing reviews earlier this year, and continues to hold the distinction of “worst gadget ever“.
- Viewsonic’s G-tablet isn’t exactly burning up sales with comments like “With some sweat equity, you can get it to work…”, and “Next gen hardware, but software needs improvement”. At it’s current price, you can get a 3G iPad, and save on your Advil bills to offset the pain.
- And other low-end competitors are getting smacked around too, like the Augen NBA7800ATP.
- EDIT: For those wondering why I omitted the Samsung Galaxy, see the comments.
Out of the box, the iPad just works, which isn’t something you can say of most tablets mentioned above. At the current prices and capabilities, the Android tablets aren’t a clear win as a lower-end device. The experience is often so poor as to be unusable, and the higher end models are not significantly better than the iPad for nearly the same cash outlay. Never mind that engineers looking at the Android have discovered major issues with the compositing and view system which are primarily software-based, giving extremely poor responsiveness in the touch interface and the animation rates. Android has a ways to go here–either due to hubris or lack of experience.
And while Windows 7 mobile at least got that part right, they are still lagging heavily in this market and will likely remain so for the balance of the year. The market trends clearly favor Apple’s iPad as the hottest “mobile PC device” available, for 3 quarters running.
In short, no one else has a good handle on the market and user experience aside from Apple.
The Golden Last Frontier of Mobile App Development
Lastly, what about the developer community? Well, you can complain about the App Store all you want, but the Android Marketplace still isn’t a whole lot better than when I last wrote about it. Furthermore, the app selection for Android is still considerably worse than than for iPad.
But the real reason you want to get in on the action is that iPad apps aren’t cheap, and therefore command higher revenues from the App Store. The iPad versions of apps are often selling for several multiples (sometimes deserved, sometimes not) over their iPhone counterparts. Even though the average across all apps is only $1 higher for iPad apps, my experience looking at the top-selling apps is somewhat different. Here are a few examples that clearly show a difference if you get in the good graces of the world:
||iPhone Price||iPad Price|
|Plants vs. Zombies||$2.99||$9.99|
|Cut the Rope||$0.99||$1.99|
Some are the same in both (SlingPlayer, LogMeIn) but clearly the experience is vastly different.
In addition to the gaming possibilities of the device, the iPad opens up a whole new world for application development where the increased screen real estate makes a big difference (Netflix avoided the iPhone app for a long time and rightly so until the iPad came along…now it’s one of the top rated iPad apps in the store, and for good reason). And there are precious few decent iPad utility applications out there, making a rich market for those who have the know-how and willingness to surf the treacherous waters of Jobs & Co.
Unless a miracle happens, it looks like Apple has the tablet world by the tail for at least this year. In 2012, assuming the Mayan gods don’t come to punish all of us for bad John Cusack movies, the landscape may change dramatically but for now it’s Steve’s world and we’re just computing in it.
So you’re a mobile developer and you want to start building apps for the glory, the fame, and the cold, hard cash. You’re probably looking at the iPhone vs. Android war unless you were just recently thawed out from cryogenic storage, in which case I welcome you to the 21st century.
As a mobile development platform, the iPhone might as well rename itself to “Lightning Rod for Criticism.” The critiques are not undeserved–largely due to its App Store, but the platform itself has a fair number of things to gripe about too. Google “iPhone App Development Sucks” and you’ll find lots of complaints usually distilled down to:
- Getting approved requires intervention by the Pope or some higher deity. Rejections are potentially random.
- Approval times are so long, users get mad because bug fixes take a long time to migrate into the ecosystem.
- The vast majority of apps in the store are ignored because they are swimming in a sea of competition.
- Apple is just plain mean and kicked my dog for amusement.
Maybe not the fourth one as much as the first three, but they’re all around in various proportions. They usually result in the following solutions:
- Apple should change the app approval process.
- Apple should remove its stranglehold on the iPhone app store.
- Developers should get the new <insert Android-based phone here> because Android’s platform has:
- No problematic approval process
- Greater opportunity
- Lower competition
- The hot new market
- Better development environment
My question to the mobile development community is the grass really greener on the Android side of the fence? Let’s take a hard look:
The Android Marketplace
I have a few friends with the Droid/Android phone sets and they love to brag about just how cool they are compared to the iPhone. I’ve seen the handset and played with it for a bit. It’s nice enough for sure. But when I ask them about the Android App Store, instead of telling me about Android, they rail on how broken the Apple App store is. That missed the point. I wanted to know how theirs works. So finally, I checked it out for myself…
There are no less than SEVEN different stores (that I can find to date, Jan ’10), either already available or in the works, including:
- Android Marketplace
- Motorola Shop4Apps (accidentally discovered back in December, 2009)
- MiKandi (the first adult app store, and no I’m not linking to it. )
- General Mobile and
- Sony Ericsson (both mentioned here, coming soon to a browser near you)
This is progress? Now instead of contending with ONE process, ONE registration fee, and potentially, ONE set of handset, I’m faced with a nightmare combinatorial problem of up to seven places to deal with as a developer (with seven fees, seven policies, seven places to potentially get rejected if they dislike something, etc), and SEVEN places to shop as a consumer. As a developer (especially a micro ISV), my resources were already strapped but now they’re positively spread razor thin in this model.
Oh, but wait! I want to stick with the MAIN store, because they clearly won’t all win, right? You might guess that Google’s will win, but are you really 100% sure about that? What if the Google Phone continues to have lackluster sales like it did in the first week?
Not looking good there for Google, is it? Yeah, so you’re going to hedge your bets, submit to multiple stores and reach for some aspirin. So #1 on our list isn’t looking great.
The number one reason most (but not all) developers create mobile apps is to get some economic benefit. How does Android stack up in terms of economic potential?
Apple and Android stores couldn’t be more different in size: Apple’s app store is estimated to make $2.4 Billion dollars per year (source: AdMob). For some perspective, that’s about the 2008 GDP of Somalia and about 2x the 2008 GDP of the Maldives. Official Android figures have yet to come out, but AdMob has estimated their size at about $60 Million dollars per year, as of about 6 months ago. For the mathematically challenged, that makes Android’s Marketplace about 2% of the size of Apple’s iTunes economy, or Apple’s iTunes economy is about 40x larger than Android’s.
And as if that weren’t depressing enough, the Android Market’s purchase rate is less than half that of the iTunes App Store (19% of Android users bought apps vs. 50% of Apple users). There’s some speculation that Android users have a higher ability to pirate purchased apps, and this is impacting the actual purchase rates. Either way, the fact that the Android user base is less likely to buy apps coupled with the size difference makes the economic benefit of the platform shaky at best.
That makes #2 as a reason to switch somewhat naive.
App Store Competition
Is the market situation better with Android’s Marketplace because of lower competition? Here’s one developer’s experience with Android vs. iPhone markets. My favorite is their quote:
A good example is the well known game Trism, which sold over $250,000 in it’s first two months on the iPhone. On Android it has sold, to date (August 2009), less than 500 copies. That’s $1,046 total earnings, max. How psyched are those guys that they ported a huge hit to Android and can’t even cover a party sub for the release dinner?
Ouch. And if a well known title is struggling like that, what does that say about the lesser known apps?
Internal competition is a good thing–competition means that everyone thinks this platform is interesting. Android doesn’t seem to have critical mass here. Unfortunately, Android has external competition, but not in a good way. If you want to get the best deal on apps, you actually need to shop and price-compare apps between stores–how’s that for a great experience?
We noticed that the MobiHand store features some apps that were also found on Handango’s site, like the GoogHelper app and the FotMob app, for example. However, on OnlyAndroid, GoogHelper was $3.95 whereas Handango sold it for $4.95. FotMob, on the other hand, was free on Handango but was $7.99 on OnlyAndroid.
I think we can scratch #3 as a good reason.
Android Market: Hot or Not?
Android has the buzz, but Android’s market share just doesn’t touch Apple’s, either in terms of payout or number of handsets available. Here are figures from Quantcast for Oct/Nov in 2009 comparison charts (This is the most recent data available for this post, I’d love to see how Dec changed this, if at all, with the release of the Motorola Droid).
Notice two things:
- Android’s jump in market share was at the expense of RIM, Windows Mobile and other non-Apple OSes.
- Apple’s market share remained untouched.
So why does Apple maintain such a captive audience? They understand that a mobile device should be
The iPhone is the first mobile device to accurately capture that trifecta of characteristics. A positive user experience will trump “open platforms” and all that other developer-centric nonsense that we like to spout. Android merely copied most of what the iPhone had already innovated, but without adding much to its predecessor’s heritage. As an iPhone user, my motive to switch platforms is low. Android’s market share will stagnate soon for that reason alone.
What about the Android Marketplace vs. iTunes? iTunes is a case study in user friendliness. The Android Marketplace is functional but a real pain to navigate. Try this fun experiment: Browse the Top Paid Apps in the Android Marketplace. You have to hover over each app to find out what it does and each page contains 8 apps. You can’t see how much an app costs until you visit the developer’s own site. Apple, by contrast, puts some minimal info on each app including publisher and price for each app and I can see up to 100 at a time.
Developers, Developers, Developers!
The Android’s development platform is a clear win for software nerds. Developing an Android app means using Java, a well-known, well-documented language with loads of great tools and relative ease of uploading them to the device. Apple’s XCode is a piece of crap, even on a good day. Provisioning your iPhone app is a small nightmare that even the most seasoned of developers will struggle with.
Finally, a point for Android! But unfortunately, developer friendliness is the least important aspect of the platform. Not just Android, any platform.
Steve Jobs Is Still Pwning Android
Let’s recap thus far: With Apple, you have a painful setup process, a lousy development environment , a costly annual fee, and a single app store that if you’re part of the Blessed, you can make some fat cash, hand over fist.
With Android, you have seven potential stores to deal with, a reasonable development environment, a lot of uncertainty about the market, and no economic incentive to make apps because the payout isn’t working out like Apple’s app store.
I wouldn’t call that much of an incentive to go with anything but Apple, even with all the negatives in Apple’s basket.
The iPhone scratched an itch no one knew they had and the Apple App Store took off into the stratosphere, inspired by a paranoid and sometimes irrational father figure culture. And it’s still kicking the crap out of everything else. Android’s game of catch-up is turning into a potential nightmare for customers and developers alike.
My advice is to buy a black turtleneck, some khakis and buck up with your iPhone development. Cocoa may be a pain and Objective-C far less fun than Java, but Android’s cure is worse than the disease.
UPDATE: Six weeks later, the Nexus One launch is declared a flop. Sales are 10% of either Droid or iPhone during the same 74 day period of their launch cycle. Not exactly the iPhone killer Google was hoping for.