How To Choose the Right Mobile Platform For Your Company’s App

March 18, 2015

Any company or a startup these days sooner or later finds itself facing a series of decisions regarding its mobile strategy. One of the first choices to make is the platform to target first: if you’re on a budget, developing apps for all relevant mobile operating systems doesn’t seem realistic.

We’ve taken a look and put together the main points to keep in mind when making the decision.

By the numbers

Looking at the smartphone stats from 2014, the choice may look obvious as 81.5% units shipped ran Android, while only 14.8% were iPhones, leaving just 3.7% for Windows Phone, Blackberry and other, even smaller platforms.

However, different stats for the U.S. market show that about 41.3% of mobile subscribers own an iPhone and 53.2% use an Android smartphone — still leaving little space for anyone else but being much closer to each other.

Apple’s and Google’s app stores have a similar number of applications in them — 1.2 million and 1.3 million, respectively. However, there’s a difference in how actively users install apps where Apple leads with an average of 6.2 apps per month versus 4.1 apps per month for Android.

Look at the audience

Probably the most important part of choosing the right mobile OS to start with is understanding what audience you’re going to target. The obvious first step here is to check what your customers already use — of course, that’s only possible if you have a website with a more or less significant audience. Just go to Google Analytics and check which mobile platforms are more popular with your visitors — you might want to start with the leading one, especially if the difference is big.

Another thing about users is geography you’re interested in. Simply speaking, iOS has a sizeable market share in developed countries, while emerging markets tend to prefer Android devices, which are often less expensive and more practical. This division is also explained by the fact that long-term mobile subscriptions, with which the cost of a phone can be subsidized in part or in full, are rather unpopular in developing countries as opposite to the US.

When thinking about the audience, it also makes sense to take a look at what the users of different mobile platforms are interested in. In January 2015, the most popular categories in Apple’s App Store were Games, Education, Business, Lifestyle, and Entertainment, while similar report for Google Play highlights Education, Lifestyle, Entertainment (which apparently includes games), Business and Personalization.

Paid vs Free

One more decision you need to make is whether you’re going to make money with your application, either by selling it or offering in-app purchases.

According to the data of 451 Research, Android users on average download only 0.7 paid apps per month, while for iOS this number reaches 1.9 apps. This backs the widespread belief that iPhone owners are more used to paying for applications while many of their Android counterparts would prefer a free alternative or an ad-supported product.

As for the revenues that mobile apps currently generate, the stats speak for iOS again. As of 2014, the median revenue per app in Apple’s store was between $500 and $1,000, while an average Android app only generated between $101 and $200. Part of this difference can be explained by less strict application filtering process in Google Play (i.e. there’s a lot of garbage that no one buys, which affects the stats) but the general picture is still pretty clear.

Budget concerns

Probably if you had enough money to commission development of mobile applications for all relevant platforms, it would be the best course of action. But we all know it’s more likely to meet a unicorn in a morning subway train than to see a young company or startup ready to spend that much. Therefore, budget is yet another constraint you’ll have to take into account when choosing between mobile platforms.

Stanfy CEO Andrew Garkavyi explains:

In general, the cost of development of a native app for iOS or Android is about the same. This is explained by many factors. Rates of engineers are similar (Java developers are in demand on the market because the whole of enterprise depends on this language; and iOS is very popular by itself these days).

Technologically the two platforms are very close but there are some features that are much easier to implement in iOS or Android. And of course if you target many different Android devices, development process may take longer.

One of the most unpleasant points with Google platform is that there are some features that work differently on different devices and are very hard to debug — Nexus 7 2013, for instance, has an issue with network requests when Bluetooth and Wi-Fi are enabled simultaneously. Adapting to different resolutions on the phones is normally just a technical process that can be automated and should not waste a lot of time. But it may be different on tablets, where designers would have to spend much more time in order to create UI that fits well both 10″ and 7″ devices.

There is also a possibility to put the native apps development project on hold and resort to a web application. Strictly speaking, a web app is not an app at all but a website optimized for mobile browsers and behaving much like a native solution. The upsides of this solutions are obvious — you can pay once and get something that will work on any platform.

The downsides are clearly visible as well — while HTML5 really allows to create awesome things, a web app will still be a long shot from a native one in terms of features. A web app won’t be able to use many of phone’s hardware functions like camera or microphone and will require an Internet connection to work properly. But if all you need is a relatively simple application, this might be a great solution.

All in all, the decision about the mobile platform for your business’s app is a tough one, but less so if broken down into a few parts. Each mobile OS has its own advantages and disadvantages, which, when used properly, can give you an opportunity of engaging new customers and preserving loyalty of existing ones.

Image credit: sacks08 / Flickr