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How do developers prioritise platforms? iOS vs Android vs HTML5

How do developers perceive different platforms and how is their platform choice affected by the type of apps they developed or the way they define success? Andreas Pappas looks into the data from VisionMobile’s Developer Economics survey in Q3 2013 to shed some light on these questions.

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Not long ago, the choice of a mobile platform, i.e. which mobile platform to support was a key question for developers. That question has more or less been addressed now: iOS and Android accounted for 94% of smartphone sales in Q3 2013 and there is little doubt that they will continue to dominate the market in the years to come. For organisations that require massive scale, combined with all the perks of a mobile ecosystem (monetisation, distribution, platform services), iOS and Android are the platforms of choice with a combined Mobile Developer Mindshare of over 85% based on the last Developer Economics survey in Q3 2013.

Despite the dominance of these two platforms, our latest Developer Economics report showed that the majority of organisations utilise more than one platform at the same time, while 50% of organisations utilise three or more platforms at the same time. This strategy that makes perfect sense for pro developers and organisations where scale matters. So how should your organisation prioritise across all platforms you publish on? For the majority of organisations involved in app development this is a key question, as resources are scarce and, quite often, a choice must be made. For example, which platform to support first with a new game release or which platform to invest more time on when supporting an existing app?

Ideally all supported platforms should be allocated the level of resources required in order to deliver the best possible product on each platform, but in practice this is rarely the case, even for the largest of organisations. There are of course, many factors to consider, such as costs, capabilities, resources, target market, revenue potential etc.

The common perception regarding Android, iOS and HTML5 would probably look like this:

  • Android is better for reaching more users
  • iOS is better if you want to make more money
  • HTML5 is better if you want to go cross-platform or have existing web assets

We’ll now examine how developers in our survey prioritise the three big platforms (Android, iOS, HTML5) based on other selections they make or the type of business they run. We’ll see how these choices correlate with their platform priorities and whether we can shed some light on common perceptions held for each platform, as stated above.

iOS is prioritised by high-grossing organisations and developers

Looking at how priorities vary by respondents’ revenues we see that respondents in the lowest ranges, i.e. those that make no money or earn less than $1,000 per month tend to prioritise Android. From $1,000 and above iOS becomes the priority platform, with the share of respondents prioritising it increasing with revenue. However, the picture becomes more balanced once revenues exceed $5M, with iOS, Android and HTML5 being almost equally prioritised.

revenue

While we cannot conclude that iOS brings more revenue, there is, undoubtedly a strong correlation between the amount of revenue generated and use of iOS as a priority platform. The sharp increase in HTML5 is likely associated with the use of HTML5 among large enterprises that mobilise existing HTML assets. Developers in the lower revenue brackets tend to prioritise Android more than high-earners do. This is likely associated with lower barriers to entry for Android developers and the use of Android among Hobbyists.

What does Success mean for developers?

We asked respondents to indicate how they measure success in app development, i.e. whether they measure success by money generated, users reached, cost savings etc. Looking at how priorities vary across different success metrics, we find that Android is the main platform of choice for developers that do not care about success or value the level of knowledge acquired through app development, i.e. two metrics that have little to do with the business side of app development. This indicates that Android is much more popular as (but not limited to) an entry-level platform on which developers experiment or learn.

Prioritisation of HTML5 increases considerably among respondents valuing cost reduction or efficiency gains. This segment most likely consists of large organisations that view HTML5 as a cost effective way to mobile existing business processes and assets, such as enterprises.

iOS priority rises among developers that value direct revenues or brand recognition. The latter factor (brand recognition) is particularly important as it indicates that iOS is the platform of choice for brands, an important value-adding element for mobile ecosystems since brands contribute to user retention and engagement.

success

How platform selection criteria relate to developers’ priority platform

Looking at selection criteria vs platform priority we find that iOS is the main platform of choice for respondents that want discovery, targeted reach and monetisation, all of which are key challenges among mobile developers. Android, on the other hand, is preferred among developers that value open standards, porting and choice of development environment, i.e. factors that are associated with the technical, rather than the business side of app development. HTML5 peaks in terms of priority among developers that value open standards, ease of porting and speed & cost of development but drops when it comes to platform APIs, graphics capabilities and revenue potential, reflecting the gap between HTML5 and native application platforms.

selection

How do different types of developers select their primary platform?

Android gets much more attention than iOS and HTML5 among developers that are involved in app development as part of a side project, i.e. those whose main occupation is not app development. The reverse is true among independent app developers, i.e. developers whose main occupation is app development and are primarily self-employed: indy app developers show a clear preference towards iOS. It is clear that Android attracts more hobbyists as it is more accessible in terms of startup costs and effort. However, developers whose livelihood depends on app development tend to prefer iOS, a platform that is known to monetise better overall.

For organisations outside the app development business that develop their own apps (i.e. verticals), HTML5 becomes a key contender, surpassing Android in terms of priority and being almost equal to iOS. For such organisations (e.g. banks, retailers) cross-screen and cross-platform is very important, making HTML5 a cost-effective option.

involve

Platform priority varies by app category

There are small differences between iOS and Android when it comes to app categories. Developers that develop Music/Video, Utilities and Location services tend to show a preference towards Android. Across all other categories the differences are quite subtle, with the exception of Enterprise apps, where iOS has the upper hand. But what is really interesting in this category is the rise in HTML5 prioritisation, among verticals, a clear indicator of the importance of HTML5 when it comes to enterprises.

category

So what does all this mean?

Apart from the relative differences in priorities between platforms shown above, perhaps a more interesting indicator is how priority varies for each single platform, across these choices. There are clear messages that can be taken from such analysis. For example, HTML5 is clearly considered more valuable as a platform among large organisations and enterprises, as these organisations prioritise HTML5 a lot more than organisations that don’t fall in this category. Similarly, iOS is prioritised more by brands and developers who are mainly interested in generating revenues.

So coming back to our original assumptions, let’s see whether these hold, i.e. whether developers share the same views.

Android: does it help you reach more users?
While the statement holds some truth, developers do not necessarily associate reach with platform market share. While Android has the largest market share in terms of device ownership, there are numerous factors that can limit the addressable market for developers: API & device fragmentation, demographics and user maturity, data connectivity etc. As a result, Android does not seem to be a clear preference by developers that are interested in reach. On the other hand it is preferred by hobbyist developers and those valuing open standards, reflecting relatively lower barriers to entry and openness compared to iOS.

iOS: is it better when it comes to monetisation?
While Android has been monopolising the consumer market, iOS still remains the platform of choice for developers that are interested in revenues, preferred by developers who generate over $1,000 in monthly app revenues. It also has an edge among game developers, offering a less fragmented API and device ecosystem and better monetisation opportunities via direct downloads.

HTML5: is it better for cross-platform and enterprise applications?
The priority of HTML5 invariably increases when enterprise development comes in play. HTML has long been used for web services in enterprises and is the platform of choice for extending such services across screens and devices.

We’ve summarised the key points from this analysis in the table below. Note that these are indicative of market trends, i.e. they reflect developers’ choices and should not be seen as advantages or disadvantages of each platform. For example, there is no reason why enterprise apps cannot be deployed on Android (and they are) if a business case for doing so exists. Similarly, while iOS is usually associated with higher revenues, there are many high-grossing Android apps that far exceed average iOS revenues.

Prioritised more by developers who Prioritised less by developers who
Android generate no revenue
don’t care about success
value open standards support
develop apps as a side project
develop music / video apps
generate revenues > $5M
define success by cost reduction / efficiency gains
value application discovery
develop apps for verticals
develop enterprise apps
iOS generate revenue btwn $1M – $5M
define success by brand recognition
value revenue potential
independent app developers
develop games
generate no revenue
don’t care about success
value open standards support
develop apps as a side project
develop maps / navigation
HTML5 generate revenue > $5M
define success by cost reduction / efficiency gains
value open standards support
develop apps for verticals
develop enterprise apps
generate revenue btwn $1M – $5M
don’t care about success
value revenue potential
are independent app developers
develop games

Tell us what you think. We’d love to hear from you, particularly if your experience contradicts our observations!

- Andreas (@pappasandreas)

  • http://www.contus.com/iphone-application-development.php Sienna Amelia

    Excellent Article, which helps me a lot to get to know how the most developers choose the platforms which they should go with and hat benefits them a lot. As a iOS developer for three years i get gradual move from android to iPhone apps development as that gives me more flexibility compared to android. Also regarding monetization, I would say an app that is unique collects more profit than any and app marketing plays a vital role behind.

  • http://guardiancrossfans.weebly.com/ Jim

    After looking at the alternatives, i would say it is Android and the HTML5.

  • http://www.au.mobilepundits.com/ Mobile Pundits

    I think after reading your post I can easily decide the best platform for my app development. You explain points very effectively that i can easily remember. Well, nice article.thanks.

  • Varu

    This is really very informative Andreas. No doubt, considering revenue and reach, iOS holds its place, Giving low entry barrier Android is more experimental and even though it holds a large smartphone user base, android got long to go, to be a better choice revenue wise. I am amazed at the craze of HTML 5, as your stats speaks, for enterprise apps. I really admire your valuable info here.

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