If you ask developers which is better, the iPhone or the Android, they’ll give you a strong, resounding “It depends.”
Writing applications for two different platforms poses significant challenges but developers say the differences between iPhone and Android can be summed up into three key areas: ease of development, speed of approval for apps and of course how much money you can make selling the apps.
Ease of Development
Coding language plays a big role in how easy it is for a developer to work on both iPhone and Android platforms says Anders Brownworth, who has developed Voice over Internet Protocol-related apps for companies such as bandwidth.com. “If you have a Java background, which most developers do, then Android is best for you. iPhone is coding Objective C – it’s an older language, but you can get up to speed. As a developer you have to remember stuff like in Java the system garbage collects for you while with iPhone you have to do it on your own,” he says.
The iPhone’s major development advantage is hardware uniformity. DoApp, a third-party developer of branded mobile apps on Android and iPhone for newspapers, has worked extensively on iPhone. Its senior excecutives agree with Brownworth’s assessment of the different coding languages, but say having one phone to deal with is a plus. “An advantage on the iPhone side is it’s one device. There are going to be 16 Android phones on the market, that makes for a very fragmented situation,” says Wade Beavers, CEO of DoApp.
Brownworth agrees. “If you’re going to put a couple of buttons on the screen you know it’s 360 pixels high for Android, some are 640 pixels, your interface may include multiple copies of the same button image. ”
Alex Moazed, CEO of Applico, which develops applications for the iPhone, Blackberry, Android and Windows Mobile, says this is a bigger deal than one might think. “I’ve done projects where customers need Android apps upgraded and it requires three different screen sizes etc. Your costs add up in terms of backwards compatibility.”
Developers add that if you’re a new developer you’ll need to absorb the cost of buying a Mac as well as a PC if you want to work on both platforms.
Speed of Approval
Once developed your app must be approved and that’s where Android phones tend to shine. ”I just finished nine months of working on an iPhone app,” Brownworth says. “It’ll be two weeks maybe middle of January because of the holidays to know if it’s approved,” he says.
Beavers says Apple’s convoluted approval process and the sheer app volume delay the process. “One of biggest challenges you hear is you get an app denied and no one tells you why,” he says. “The process Apple has for denial and acceptance is very arbitrary. Unpublished API suddenly becomes non available, I’m telling you if a developer gets a call from somebody at Apple, that number goes into a lockbox to be treasured.”
Android is a different story. “With Android everything is accepted by default but they reserve the right to pull. You may be pulled from the Apple store too, but you have to pass some sort of unknown bar to get in then you may be pulled,” Brownworth says.
“We can’t give our client a specific date for approval,” says Dave Borrillo, CTO of DoApp. “Plus if you have a bug you can’t do a quick fix because of time lag. We have 200 apps, if we do a global change all at the same time, we send in the change and some get in and some we have to wait,” he says.
Developers could write Web apps to bypass the iPhone approval process as Peter-Paul Koch says, but even he agreed it isn’t a cureall.
Getting the Sale
Getting your app sold depends on the platform. Ben Kazez, president of Mobiata, makers of FlightTrack – a travel app available in both the iPhone store and for the Android – says Android’s ability to run apps in the background is big for his Android customers. “Running apps in the background is huge for FlightTrack,” he says. “You can get flight updates without interrupting what you were doing. We’re going to be adding integration features like a calendar that we can’t do on iPhone.”
But the iPhone app store is a gamechanger as far as some developers are concerned. A recent article on Wireless Industry News says, “On average, about 82 percent of those surveyed indicated the design of the Android Marketplace makes it very difficult for mobile apps to be noticed, and about 57 percent of the Android developers are not satisfied with the revenues generated so far.
Moazed says iPhone’s increased sales volume can be a negative for a small developer.
“For underdog developers, [the] iPhone store is also very crowded. It’s hard to get your marketing message out there. You can sometimes spend more on marketing than on development with the iPhone store,” Moazed says.
Although Moazed praises RIM for recent advances to Blackberry like their partnership with Adobe, developers say that Apple and Google will continue to vie for the number one and two spots in the market. “In 2010 it’s going to be all about two titans and it’s going to be iPhone and Android. I don’t think Palm Pre and Microsoft are even going to be in the market,” Beavers says.
Given that, Brownworth says developers looking to write for both should start with iPhone. “If I were to target both platforms for the same app I would write for the iPhone first, get the UI nailed first because the UI tools are prettier. Once you have an interface singing in iPhone it’s easier to go to Android.”
John Greaves is a writer living in Dallas, Ga. His work has appeared in newspapers, magazines and websites.
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