The App Developer Dilemma

on March 7, 2013
Reading Time: 3 minutes

A lot of great data came out yesterday that I believe is worthy of a deeper look. In my opinion, this data begins to shed light on some of the key questions I have had around platform engagement.

Flurry released some very insightful data that dug into the vast platform fragmentation across platforms. This data helps us draw clean conclusions around why it is very difficult for small to mid-size developers to survive if their goal is to have an app on as many devices as possible. To highlight this, Flurry makes the following point:

(for a developer) to ensure that your app is optimized to function well on 80% of the individual connected devices currently in use. How many different device models (e.g., Kindle Fire HD 8.9″ Wi-Fi, Galaxy S III) do you think you need to support? (the answer is) 156.

A developer would need to index and code for the different variables for 156 different devices just to cover 80% of the current connected devices in use. That sounds like a lot of work.

The Flurry data goes on to focus on more reasonable device coverage and estimated that if a developer simply wants their app to run on 50% of connected devices in use, it means supporting 18 devices. If you know anything about how app development, testing, troubleshooting, etc., works then you know this is a problem.

From the get-go my analysis has highlighted that developers would continue to commit the bulk of their resources to support iOS due to the minimal screen size and OS generation discrepancy that exists in Apple’s model. From the many startup briefings I am having with software companies in Silicon Valley, the iOS first mantra still rings true.

The next bit of data worth highlighting is around application engagement in iOS and Android. Flurry’s data highlights that even though Android has a greater number of people using the platform, iOS has a significantly greater application engagement level. iOS users engage an application 14 times more frequently than a user on Android.

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Flurry even analyzed the data further and decided to look at application engagement not just of Android but by specific device brands running Android. The bit that stood out to me was the data around Samsung devices running Android. Flurry’s data returned that iOS (iPhone and iPad) users engage applications 7.7 times more than users on all of Samsung’s Android installed base.

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This one has always been a puzzler for many of us because we constantly see the data (from many sources both public and private) telling us that iOS users are far more engaged with software on their smart devices. So with all the data pointing in this direction, we are faced with the question of why? I attempted to shed light on this with my column on iOS and sophisticated simplicity. My core conclusion is that iOS makes it easier to engage more with the software, but this point is subjective so let’s look at more data.

The Flurry data should shed some critical light on the development challenges facing many developers. The bottom line is for developers this is an issue of massive strategic proportions. comScore also shared some of their data, also targeted at developers, with the goal of highlighting some core differences between Android and iOS customers.

The main point I found interesting in the comScore data was their findings that the extremely high satisfaction rate of the iPhone leads to much higher device loyalty. Something I believe many in the media who write their famed “I’m switching” articles fail to realize is that the mass market simply doesn’t change for change sake. If they are happy and satisfied, then churn is rare.

Another bit of interesting data is related to the average income of consumers of both platforms.

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As you look at the chart above, you may be tempted to look at the lower part of the Android graph. That isn’t the one I want to focus on. I want to focus on the bottom part of the Apple graph. If you would have seen data going back a few years that looked at average income per platform, you would have seen that most Apple users skewed higher overall on the average income level. What we are now seeing is the iPhone growth, which led to 3.5% gains this last quarter, and caused Android to lose 1.3% market share, being a result of Apple growing their share of the lower end of the market. So what do you think will happen when a new iPhone comes out and the iPhone 5 becomes $99?

The Flurry article brings up an important point facing small to mid-size developers. Where should the focus their time and financial resources? This group is where true software innovation often comes from. Rather than spread themselves thin supporting a fragmented device universe, it seems wise that they focus on the customer base and platform which will reward them financially so they can keep innovating. This decision is of monumental strategic importance.