Why Are iOS Apps Still Better Than Android Apps?

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In an attempt to write this article objectively, I started talking to Android developers about why they chose Android over iOS. What became abundantly clear to me is that most didn’t actually make the choice at all. Some did, but most were:

  1. Already developing in Java, so it was the easiest point of transition;
  2. Forced to by their employer.

The developers I spoke with were obviously not indicative of a sufficient sample, but the anecdotal evidence they give about the struggles of Android development is well-documented online. From previous reading, current research and a few anecdotal bits of information from those in the industry, I feel I can safely make the claim:

iOS apps are just better. 

This isn’t fanboy talk, there are reasons for this claim that far extend the reach of my love for Apple. So put down the pitchforks for a moment, and hear me out.

Development Time and Price

Speaking with Android developers I got anecdotes about how much time it took to create anything on Android. Only two of them had successfully completed an app on both platforms, and both confirmed that Android was indeed a time-suck.

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I took my anecdotal evidence to the Internet in a fact finding mission. What I found, was that Android and iOS development has been studied extensively, and rather than trusting anecdotal evidence, several studies have demonstrated that there is indeed a significant difference in both lines of code and hours of work.

These results come from Infinium, an independent design and development agency, that has experience on both platforms. The methodology is simple. They took two identical builds for six projects and applied the following rules:

  1. The project had the same app built for iOS and Android
  2. There was no legacy codebase or technical debt in general that could skew the data significantly.

First, we’ll look at lines of code.

Screen Shot 2016-01-31 at 3.52.03 PM

As you can see, the total lines of code made up anywhere between a four and 124 percent difference with an average difference of 38 percent.

Next, Infinium attempted to quantify the number of hours spent coding each project.

Again, you can see a significant difference here. The average Android app takes approximately 28 percent more time to develop than its iOS counterpart.

As such, you can imagine that many are turned off from the idea that developers typically charge more for Android apps. This, anecdotally, leads to more outsourced and low-quality development, which in-turn makes the problem worse. The apps on Android have a reputation for being of inferior quality than those on the iOS App Store, and this makes up a good portion of the “why” behind that problem.

The Segmented Android Market

Another problem that my developer panel detailed was that of marketplace segmentation.

This data, collected January 4, 2016 (by Google) from the Play Store, shows just how bad the problem is. Only 0.7 percent of users are using the newest version of the OS, while nearly a third of users are still using a version of the Android OS that’s nearly three years old now.

Many developers, even those that develop on the web, will tell you it’s difficult to use graceful degradation methods when designing a product for seven or eight versions of a browser. Now imagine asking an Android developer to do that with an OS that could be four or five years old, or more.

The problem is further compounded when you realize the sheer number of Android devices in the wild. Imagine optimizing for screen sizes and resolutions as well as device-specific features for each of them, or at least a vast majority of them.

This is the life of an Android developer.

For comparison sake, according to Apple, iOS users are split as follows:

  • iOS 9 – 76 percent
  • iOS 8 – 17 percent
  • Earlier – 7 percent

There’s a User Defection Trend

As a developer, you might start to question the future of a userbase that seems to be leaving en-masse for Apple products.

According to Consumer Intelligence Research Partners (CIRP) — and originally reported by BGR — 26 percent of users that purchased an iPhone 6s or 6s Plus in the first month after its release were switching from an Android phone. This follows a multi-year trend (12 percent of iPhone 6 buyers were Android defectors, and 23 percent switched from Android for the 5s, according to the same report) of users leaving Android for a system that many feel has better addressed concerns relating to security, usability, and of course, applications.

Developers spend hundreds or thousands of hours of time learning how to better develop for a platform. As the userbase shrinks, job security and profitability (for independent developers) shrinks along with it. You have to question how long many will stick around if trends like this continue.

Better Developer Tools

xcode-7-screenshot

Interactive development environments like Xcode and Android Developer Studio don’t make the app — afterall, many are using free app and game builders to skip coding altogether — but they certainly help.

None of the developers I spoke with preferred the Android Development Studio environment to that offered in Xcode. Not one. In fairness, one Android developer did prefer (the now dead) Eclipse to Apple’s Xcode.

The most common complaints I heard, and there were many, were mainly preference issues. For example, many developers preferred the WYSIWYG approach seen in Xcode as opposed to Android’s XML layout control.

Emulation was another hot button topic. Android emulator Genymotion was heralded as the fix to this problem, but it often becomes more of a burden than a tool.

Additionally, every developer I spoke to praised Apple’s commitment to developers and Google’s rather apathetic view of known problems. Again, this is anecdotal, but a quick Google search points to others who encounter the same issues with Android and its development tools and resources.

Now let us know what you think: Are you a developer that has developed for both Android and iOS? We’d love to hear your take in the comments below. The developers I spoke with preferred to remain anonymous, and you are free to do the same.

We’re looking forward to hearing from you.

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