Since the arrival of smartphones, a healthy debate has raged over which mobile operating system reigns supreme. The conversation typically involves the two contenders iOS and Android. And, given the open-source nature of Android, Google’s flagship operating system (OS) typically earns the nod from small businesses looking to compete against established players.
But Microsoft is now shaking things up. At its Build 2015 conference, the company announced that its new Windows 10 will allow developers to easily reconcile both Android and iOS apps on the Windows platform as well as incorporate older Win32-based apps (which compete with desktop OS platforms).
While this makes porting to Windows an obvious choice, it still leaves developers with a looming question: Which OS should they develop an app for first?
To determine the right course for your app, start with these four questions:
1. Do I have a Mac?
The proprietary nature of Apple’s iOS design extends all the way through to the programming. Apps for iOS must be developed in Xcode, which is currently available only on Macs. Besides, it’s simply easier to work with a Mac. If you don’t already own one, you’ll need to purchase one before you can begin to code. If you have a Mac and are looking for an American audience, the iTunes store -- where users have already linked their credit cards -- is a great place to promote your app.
2. What can my budget support?
According to a recent survey of leading app developers, the cost to develop an iOS app varies widely, with a median cost of nearly $38,000 to more than $171,000. Android apps cost approximately 21 percent less to develop for 78 percent of the market. Unless you have overwhelming proof that your audience primarily uses iPhones (or you have a surplus of funding), it’s more prudent to target Android first, especially on a modest budget.
And because iOS users have heightened expectations for design, you’ll need a larger budget to invest in one that's top-notch.
3. Which language are my developers more comfortable with?
Open-sourced app development does have its drawbacks. Android screens and internal device specs vary in size much more than with iOS, which is limited to the iPhone and iPad. Because of this, Android apps are more prone to bugs; and consistent testing must be completed to ensure apps are functioning properly across all devices.
In addition to its more consistent devices, iOS’ Xcode framework simplifies the app-development process for those uncomfortable with coding -- but at a premium, of course. Above all, you should make sure you or your developers are well-versed in the language and framework you choose.
4. How quickly do I need to hit my chosen app store?
If you need to launch fast, you’ll get your app into Google Play with Android much more quicky. Plus, more developers are making apps for the Google Play Store than for Apple’s App Store, so as a small business owner, you'll find it easier to locate a developer to create an Android app than you will an iOS developer.
While the benefits of developing for the Android OS are tempting, there are advantages to programming for iOS that can’t be ignored, especially if your revenue hinges on in-app purchases. Apple users are generally more affluent and therefore more likely to spend money buying your app.
To reach the widest audience possible, you may want your app to eventually be available in all stores on all platforms. And that may be possible if just being mobile-ready is good enough for your app.
Yet, while it would be nice to develop once and deploy everywhere, this promise hasn’t yet been completely fulfilled. So, if you want the feel of a native app, there’s no way around having to go native.
Perhaps with the release of Windows 10, Microsoft will also create a way to easily port apps to Android and iOS, making it the obvious OS to develop for first. Until that day, you’ll need to weigh your priorities to decide on the OS that best supports your users -- and your bottom line.