The success of Android and iOS in part depends upon the innovation provided for each platform by third-party mobile app developers, and some would argue that Android has taken a beating as a result.
So, in a competitive strike against Google, Apple announced at its Worldwide Developer Conference (WWDC) on June 11 that it is dropping Google Maps from iOS 6 this fall in favor of its own mapping services. Amsterdam-based navigation-system maker TomTom has signed a global agreement with Apple for developing maps and related information.
By launching its own mapping service and leaving behind Google Maps, Apple is “moving away from any type of relationship with Google,” said Kenneth Wisnefski, founder and CEO of WebiMax, which specializes in online, social and mobile marketing. “It signals that they have started to clearly define each other more as competitors whereas before they could be viewed as complementary.”
Apple dropping Google Maps from iOS 6 will be of concern to some Android app developers. “For many Android developers who also target iOS (which sees the majority of the most popular apps), this might have an effect because the map services may now vary across devices,” said IDC analyst and program director Al Hilwa. “However, not all apps use maps, and so this is of limited effect.”
Forrester Research analyst Charles Golvin thinks the news of Apple dropping Google Maps from iOS 6 could influence Android app developers to begin developing for iOS. “The new Maps interfaces from Apple may provide additional incentive for them to develop for iOS as Apple looks to create a new revenue stream from those APIs,” he said.
While dropping Google Maps is strategically significant for Apple, mobile industry analysts say developers will continue the trend of developing cross-platform apps that support both Android and iOS, albeit more often for iOS. Even though it takes some extra energy, developers will continue to develop cross-platform because doing so maximizes their app sales, plus app availability and quality is what consumers look at when choosing their phones.
“The perceived availability of a large, steady stream of high-quality apps is a key reason for consumers to initially choose an Android or iOS device, and then to remain loyal,” Peter Farago, VP of Marketing at Flurry (a mobile app measurement platform), wrote in his June 7 blog post, “App Developers Signal Apple Allegiance Ahead of WWDC and Google I/O.”
“Also, I think from an applications standpoint, the understanding’s always been there that Apple is the leader in that area,” said Wisnefski. “Now it’s just going to become even more clearly defined over time that there’s going to be differences in developing for different platforms because they’re going to start to look less and less alike.”
Historically, app developers have favored developing for iOS over Android for several reasons. “Apple was the first, so they have had a head start. Right now the iPad is the major platform relative to Android just due to its overall appeal,” said Gerry Purdy, mobile and wireless expert and principal at Mobiletrax.
Purdy doesn’t think the news of Apple dropping Google Maps from iOS 6 will surprise most Android app developers because “Everyone’s been expecting it for some time. It’s just something with which they need to accept and deal.”
But it’s not all doom and gloom for Android. There are several things that Google can do to increase Android support from app developers, according to Aaron Hillegass, app developer and president of training and consulting company Big Nerd Ranch. Four of them are as follows:
“First, Android needs to continue to evolve. Today, developing for iOS is significantly more efficient than developing for Android. We’ve developed both Android and iOS versions of several apps. Typically, the Android version takes twice as long to write.”
And when a new version of Android ships, Hillegass said that every phone manufacturer should do what they can to get their existing customers updated to the latest version. “Many Android users are dissatisfied with their phones because they are running an ancient version of the operation system,” he explained.
Android software and phones need to be more tightly integrated, according to Hillegass. “For example, iOS uses a lot more hardware graphics acceleration to make the user experience smoother and snappier,” he said.
Finally, Hillegass thinks that Android needs one app store that is incredibly convenient. This would help out both consumers and developers. “Apple has created an environment where users feel very comfortable buying an app,” he said. “First, there is only one app store for iOS, and it probably already has the user’s credit card on file. So the first app purchase is convenient and not scary. Second, if a user already has an iPhone, their next phone will almost certainly be another iPhone. Android does not yet have the same level of customer satisfaction or customer retention.”
Thus, if users buy an app for their iPhone, they can be sure that they won’t need to repurchase that app when they replace their phone. Plus, Hillegass points out that iOS users expect to pay for apps. “Android users do not expect to pay for apps,” he said. “Regardless of the number of Android devices, this makes it very difficult to make money selling Android applications.”
Purdy agreed with Hillegass that Google has to make the purchase process easier for Android users. This would ultimately help Android developers to see more of their apps sold. “In iOS, it’s all done through iTunes accounts, which removes paying for things directly from the apps,” Purdy said. “I think that Google plans to use Google Play this way, but they first have to create a unified media delivery platform that’s better than iTunes.”
Google can also look to increase Android support from app developers by reducing fragmentation. According to Hilwa, the key issue for Android developers is platform fragmentation. “Fragmentation reduces the quality of user experience across varying devices in the Android world and increases the cost for developers to test their apps on more and more screen sizes and different sensor sets,” he said. “This is clearly a much easier challenge in the iOS world where the range of devices is much more limited.”
Golvin also thinks that the most important aspect that is within Google’s influence is to diminish platform fragmentation. “This requires working with OEMs and operators to try to ensure that older models are updated as quickly as possible, or that customers with these older devices are incented to upgrade to a newer device,” he said. “Building a larger base of devices that employ Ice Cream Sandwich would also allow developers to target phones and tablets with a single app.”