iOS App advantage – its not the numbers

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The number of Apps on the iTunes App Store was touted as an advantage over other ‘market places’ like Google Play, Ovi or Windows Market Place. That advantage was bound to disappear over time given the popularity of Android platform and it has. As of Sep’12, the Android store has 650,000 apps compared to 700,000 on the iOS platform. Even in terms of number of downloads both the major stores crossed 25 billion. However, I believe the iOS Store has an advantage on two counts for both developers and end consumers (albeit of a certain mindset).

The fragmentation of devices running Android has been written about extensively. See here, here and here. Bottom line: the last two versions of Android (Jelly Bean and ICS) account for only about 28% of devices out there. A majority of them (54%) still run Gingerbread. ICS was meant to be the version offering a standard experience across different hardware devices, configurations and screen size. The absolute number of such devices may still be a large number and growing but the Gingerbread version is not declining in numbers. Moreover, the handset manufacturers neither have the inclination nor the wherewithal to push updates on a regular basis to its users. The lack of a central repository (a la iTunes) is also a hindrance. As Guardian notes:

It’s getting so big that the inertia of its existing installed base has just begun to act as brake on the arrival of new OS-based features in the broader market. While Google wants to push its new products – Google Currents, Google Now – which require the new APIs, and while those might be attractive for users, the interests of the handset makers and carriers’s aren’t necessarily aligned with them. And this isn’t going to change any time soon.

Android users often note that most of the apps available on iOS is available on Android too; in some categories with even more variety perhaps (customisation like widgets, live wallpapers etc.). Sure, most of the big-title, big-name apps are available across platforms. Flipboard, Zite, Angry Birds, News 360, Talking Tom, Temple Run and so on.

I think where iOS has an undisputed advantage is on niche, specific use cases. Children’s books, educational apps, utility apps for niche segments like lawyers, engineers come to mind. Take children’s books, games and education apps for example. A majority of developers have focused clearly on iOS only as of now. Toca Boca and Urbn-Pockets come to mind. There are countless others, of course.

Among cross-platform developers those seeking a premium audience, willing to pay for an app prefer the iOS platform for (a) uniformity of devices (b) simplicity of writing for just one platform (c) knowing full well that a majority of the iOS devices can and will upgrade to the latest version thanks to a central repository like iTunes (d) the iOS market is not averse of paying for quality, premium apps and (e) even if the basic app is free, it can be easily monetized through in-app purchases.

It is a matter of time before all of this changes and even niche, specific use app developers find platforms other than iOS attractive. The other advantage of iOS – one platform, limited number of devices is unlikely to be dented for a while. Even the new mobile device launches of Apple keep this developer interest in mind, as with iPad Mini. As of now, iOS has a small but important advantage given the above. Your views?

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