A high-profile VC and a well-known mobile application developer were recently involved in a debate about whether to build for Android or Apple mobile platforms. The answer, it turns out: "it depends," "both," or "simply build for the mobile browser." The third answer is the correct one for most developers.
App developers and companies have different goals, so why follow the same advice?
Well-respected VC Fred Wilson, principal of Union Square Ventures, has suggested that developers interested in the largest user base should invest as much, if not more, in developing for Android as they do for iOS. Wilson justifies his recommendation by looking back at the desktop operating system market: "I believe the mobile OS market will play out very similarly to Windows and Macintosh, with Android in the role of Windows."
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Countering Wilson's advice is Marco Arment, founder of Instapaper and former lead developer of Tumblr. Arment suggests developers need to keep a closer eye on development economics, degree of fragmentation, payment integration, and the willingness of users to pay for applications or extensions on a given mobile OS platform.
Arment's advice is likely to resonate with individual developers hoping to directly monetize their mobile application either by selling the application or through in-application purchases. Over time, however, you shouldn't bet against Android closing the gap versus Apple along the lines of development economics, payment ease-of-use, and fragmentation.
It remains to be seen whether Apple's platform can continue to generate higher application and in-application purchase revenue for developers even while Android boasts the No. 1 mobile OS by new-unit share. Today, the app store revenue gap between Apple and all other mobile platforms is striking. But will that continue?
On the other hand, a company that sells goods or services that are exposed through the mobile application, but does not monetize the application itself, needs to pay more attention to Wilson's advice. If the vast majority of a bank or retailer's prospective users are going to use an Android device for banking or shopping, the company had better offer a compelling experience on that platform.
But why choose between developing for Android or Apple?