A Brief Android Rant

I feel as if I now have enough experience and data points now to know that my initial lack of empathy for Android users was justified. Besides Google, I just do not see who benefits from Android. Mobile developers do not benefit from Android’s fragmentation. As a result, they tend to focus on iOS which is still hard but at least manageable, especially for a young technology startup with limited time, resources, and customer insights. Let me repeat this — the best mobile developers who are not working for large companies are mostly focusing on iOS because Apple’s platform gives them a chance to ship something unique and get real feedback. Occasionally, you may hear about investors looking for “Android-first” apps or how “Android will take over iOS” and other nonsense — it’s all nonsense. If a startup went Android-first, as some select few do (and, more power to them), those developers would likely have to hone in one a few premium handsets and operating systems (assuming Android users updated them) to begin with, effectively shutting out the rest of them. A step further, startups who start out on iOS and then consider Android have to devote serious time, money, and energy to the effort. In cases where startups are beginning to see product-market fit, have funding and/or revenues, and have generated demand among Android users, it makes sense to go “Android Second.”

Most of this isn’t new information. Intuitively, most people get it. But, I still hear Android users wondering why some hot, new apps aren’t on Android yet, or some investors wanting to invest in something Android-first, and I’m here to tell you there is a good reason why these users aren’t satisfied — because they don’t buy iPhones. Now, in the past, I could see the logic. iPhones were expensive, and for core applications (especially music, client-side), the limitations and iTunes lock-in could have been cost-prohibitive. But, that is not the case today. Someone tweeted at me today that they bought a refurbished iPhone 4s from Walmart for $39. I don’t know if that price is true, but I do know that now people can pick up free iPhone 4 units with new plans that don’t have onerous data charges or pay $99 for refurbished units. Buying one of these, or even just an iPod touch, opens up whole new world of apps.

This is all because Android is good for Google and no one else. Android is not good for mobile developers, and thereby not good for users who actually want new applications. For those who Android users are content waiting — no harm, no foul. But for those Android users who cry about not having the apps they want in 2013, this post serves to explain just why that is. (For further reading as to why this is happening, read no other than Bill Gurley who wrote two great pieces on this years ago: Android or iPhone? Wrong Question and Android May Be The Greatest Legal Destruction Of Wealth.)

Haywire is written by Semil Shah, and is published under a Creative Commons BY-NC-SA license. Copyright © 2014 Semil Shah.

“I write this not for the many, but for you; each of us is enough of an audience for the other.”— Epicurus