iOS First. Android Much, Much Later

I have been involved in many situations in all sorts of capacities in and around companies with mobile products where the topic of “When should we go Android?” comes up. My own thinking has evolved on this, and will likely continue to as the world changes. But, for right now, for 2014, this is what I believe: For early-stage startups focused on mobile, there is usually is no need to worry about Android until the product in question attains product-market fit and gets large enough to begin lock-in.

The most common trap here is the early iOS app which gets some buzz. All of a sudden, the founders hear “When are you building for Android?” The natural, enthusiastic response to sincere requests of the Android chorus is to go ahead and build for Android and seek more downloads, more growth, more revenue. I have a different view though. The proper response is: “No. Buy an iPhone.”

Let’s revisit why this is the case. Let me state up front that I have no problem with Android and see its own benefits. But in this context, startups should follow the lead of Instagram and only start dabbling with Android if and when there’s a solid base of millions on iOS and/or if it becomes a strategic chip for the startup. Ok, so why is this so?

  1. Early-stage startup teams cannot afford to handle the hardware fragmentation that plagues Android.
  2. Study after study demonstrates iOS users are not only growing in key geographies, but are more valuable customers.
  3. iPhone 5c and future low cost models will likely steal share from Android relative to yesterday.

Product-market fit is elusive in general, and acutely so on mobile, where distribution pipes are either constrained or flooded. I’m seeing too many teams building for Android too early. Unless there is a huge foundation under the iOS apps, building for Android is likely only to result in a few spikes in user growth and then a lifetime of hair pulling — too much for a small startup to handle. The common wisdom used to be iOS first, Android second — but I think it needs to be amended right now to the following: “With the caveat there may be a small handful of apps which need to be on Android early, mobile startups should be iOS first (of course) and resist the urge to make Android second too soon.” For a product early in its life cycle, the return on investment often can’t be justified.

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