It’s the technological equivalent of Fischer vs. Spassky. Ali vs. Frazier. Federer vs. Nadal. A rivalry of epic proportions, years in the making, with millions of passionate supporters on either side of the line and plenty of track ahead to continue the fierce battle. So, let’s meet the contenders in the iOS vs. Android match-up!
In the white corner, we have the App Store. Apple first released the iPhone, the world’s first ever smartphone, in mid-2007. The initial version of the device contained no support for third-party software, as Steve Jobs reasoned that web apps served over the internet could provide sufficient functionality for most users. That quickly changed when the maligned third-party developers managed to ‘jailbreak’ the iPhone and begin coding their own apps for the device. A year later, with the release of iPhone OS 2.0, Apple’s response was the introduction of the App Store, where users could browse and download a whole new world of third party apps. It wasn’t the first app store, or initially the biggest; it carried only 500 apps at the time of its introduction, compared to the established Microsoft and Palm, which had thousands of apps available for the respective devices. However, the App Store quickly became top dog, racking up 100 million downloads in its first three months, a number which ballooned to 1.5 billion by the end of its first year. As Steve Jobs mentioned at the time, presumably with a sly smile, “It’s going to be very hard for others to catch up”. Apple pockets 30% of all revenue for paid apps, a manoeuvre that is undoubtedly lucrative, with over 1.2 million apps currently live on the site and 40 billion odd downloads recorded thus far. Actually, that data is out-dated by a few years at this stage, so the numbers are probably more like 2.2 million and 70 billion.
Jobs’ prophecy was right. None of the rival stores that existed when the App Store debuted could keep up. The true challenger appeared in September 2008, a mere two months after Apple debuted its App Store. With the latter remarkably successful straight off the mark, copycats were bound to follow; the most prominent of these turned out to be Google Play, who we now find in the turquoise-y corner. Google Play takes its cues from an amalgam of three predecessors; Android Market, Google Music and Google eBookstore. Android Market was the original rival to the App Store, released in September 2008; the eBookstore followed two years later, while Google Music was incorporated into Android Market in late 2011. On the 2nd of May 2012, Google rebranded the whole damn thing as Google Play, and introduced in-app subscriptions a couple of weeks later. Unlike the App Store, users are not required to download their apps directly from the Google Play Store (though they can if they want); they are able to acquire content through the developers website or a third party alternative. However, the GPS is not open source; all content must comply with Google’s compatibility requirements may access the Store. Google Play has been wildly successful in its own right, and actually stocks 200,000 odd more apps than the App Store; however, its more lax policy has not come without a few security scares, the most significant of which occurred in March 2011, when 50,000 unwitting users downloaded DroidDream, which allowed hackers to steal private information such as user IDs.
Conversely, Apple is supremely strict on quality control, which has kept it in favour since the App Store’s inception. In fact, it’s a policy adapted across Apple’s entire operation; whether it’s the comparative lack of viruses on a Macbook or the stringent Quality Control checks on films submitted to iTunes, Apple likes to be seen to run a tight ship. Because of this, Apple has garnered a reputation as a kind of premium service; it’s wiped the floor with its PC and smartphone competitors and as a result, its loyal built-in user-base is very attractive to app developers. Another advantage that the App Store has is that, despite its apparently significant 30% cut, it’s actually generous to developers as they see 70% straight back with no hosting fees or credit card processing costs, which Apple covers all in. In fact, the money Apple makes from its apps is a sidecar to the copious amounts of revenue generated by selling the physical phones. Despite this, the App Store is still crucial and valued by the company, as it promotes loyalty to the motherland as it were, keeping users and developers committed to the Apple cause.
Google Play plays to different strengths. While it will never swing the premium middle/high class clientele of Apple to the dark side, it caters for a wide variety of customers by not being limited to a single device. Google Play is available on a substantial amount of technology, from high-end smart phones to bargain basement tablets. While this great to reach an audience from all sorts of walks of life, it does have its drawbacks. These days, smart developers will budget for developing across both iOS and Android, but the first port of call is usually iOS, as Android’s fragmented approach has come under frequent criticism. The two platforms also function very differently, despite appearing similar to the casual observer, which can lead to frustrating user experiences if developers just try to port the app from iOS to Android or vice-versa.
So, how do these two app titans stack up against each other in 2018? Well, we don’t quite know yet to be honest, but thanks to research conducted in mid-2017 by the hard-working folks at App Annie Intelligence, we do know where things stood eight months ago, which is as recent as it gets. There are two elements to consider; revenue and downloads. Depending on which way you want to swing the facts, both the App Store AND Google Play are winning the war on each other. The App Store maintained (and we can assume maintains) a huge revenue lead over its rival. The report suggests that the App Store’s revenue was 50% higher than Google Play’s, thanks in large part to its cracking of the Chinese market. For those that are interested, Taiwan is the second largest iOS market behind the US, with Germany a close-ish third.
If you were an Android representative, you might well say all that doesn’t really matter. Why should it, when Google Play downloads exceed App Store downloads by 60%? This is in stark contrast to the same period back in 2013, when Google Play was a mere 25% ahead of the App Store with regards downloads, while maintaining the same revenue loss. Google Play’s impressive lead is due in large part to its success in emerging economies, and it’s interesting to contrast the top five revenue-generating countries with Apple’s. They were, in order, the US, South Korea and Germany. With two crossovers between the platforms, the figures clearly show that Google Play has begun catering to a similar clientele base, a move that’s giving it an impressive advantage when it comes to download statistics.
Not that the App Store should be too concerned in the short term. In the US and Europe, where the markets are the most significant, developers still tend to build for iOS first, then modify their app for Google Play. Apple comes with a pedigree that Android will never topple, and when it comes to staying ahead, this is critical to Apple’s success. However, if the developing markets in Asia, where smartphones tend to be more affordable, were to eventually rule an overall majority, Apple may have a real problem. Their customers and users appreciate premium content, and especially appreciate receiving that premium content first. If the developers follow the market and turn to Google Play, hard questions may very well be asked of the long-established champ. Things change very quickly in the app landscape, and Apple are nothing if they’re not adaptable. They’ll be following these figures closely and coming up with counter-measures to make sure they stay a presence in the critical emerging markets. It’s very tough to see into the future when it comes to young technology, but one thing is for certain; the war is still very much on.