Device vs platform and some good signs for Android

The mobile press in the last week or so has been lavishing huge praise on Apple for the iPhone 4, which by all accounts is an awesome device, and I am particularly interested to see what apps developers will build using the new gyroscope, as well as excited by the new screen and the increased speed that comes from a faster processor and increased memory.  In other words Apple who already had the best device in the market just took another big step forward and put more distance between them and the competition.  There are of course a number of decent Android devices out there (and also on other platforms) and they are rapidly getting better, but I think it is hard to argue that Apple isn’t the clear market leader when it comes to device popularity/features/function/quality.

There are also more apps available for the iPhone than any other platform (275,000 compared to 72,000 on Android which is in turn far ahead of Blackberry, Symbian, and Windows), so from a platform perspective the iPhone is out in front too (although the practical difference to consumers between 275k apps and 72k apps is probably much less than the 74% difference between the two numbers suggests).

But there are a lot of good signs out there for Android.  Firstly Android devices outsold iPhones in Q1 this year (although I guess Q3 might swing the other way following the launch of the iPhone 4), and secondly according to VisionMobile research (reported yesterday on Techcrunch) developers now prefer Android:

  • Android is now the most used platform with 60% of developers compared with just over 50% on iOS (the iPhone)
  • Android apps need less code than other platforms (30% less than iOS)
  • Android has the best debugging process
  • Android is the fastest platform to learn (5 months compared with 7-8 months for iOS)

So the emerging picture appears to be that Apple has the best device, but Android is the better platform.  It will be interesting to see which of the two prevails over the medium term.  Regular readers won’t be surprised to hear my view is that having the better platform is more important.  I think that having more developers means more and better apps and that from a consumer perspective having a better range of apps will be more important than the differences between devices.  Not that the iPhone will go away, but rather that over time Android devices will come to have a much greater market share, which in turn will allow them to invest more in R&D than Apple and further cement their leadership.  Time, however, will tell, and much will depend on how well Apple and the Android community execute on their business plans over the coming months and years.

In a final sound bit from the Vision Mobile research, fully 80% of developers think that operators should embrace a future as dumb bit pipes, and very few see operator decks (or indeed any other operator channel) as a good route to market.  Pre loading on devices is also out of favour.