‘App Store’, ‘There’s an app for that’, ‘Sent from my iPhone’. All too familiar terms that you’ve more than likely heard in abundance over the last decade. Many would say that the iPhone revolutionised mobile technology. Many others would simply disagree.
Despite Apple-specific terminology claiming a firm place in our mobile tech lexicon, it may surprise you to learn that a huge 74% of mobile devices on the planet are Android-based. Furthermore, Apple holds only a 14% share of the global smartphone market. You can be forgiven for assuming it was greater. Presuming you live or work(ed) in a town or city, Apple mobile devices can be seen just about everywhere. It’s only when you start to zoom out and look at the wider picture that you start to understand how and why Android and the dozens of Android device manufacturers have such global popularity.
First and foremost, cost. A premium price point isn’t unique to Apple, with brands such as Google, Sony and Samsung charging a pretty penny for their flagship smartphones. But it’s only when you start to look at second tier Android devices that you start to see some more sensible value. Brands like Xiaomi, Oppo, Vivo and Plus1 are making relatively powerful and feature-packed Android devices for half the price of a flagship iPhone. Zooming out even further, there’s tier three, which is where it gets really busy. There are dozens upon dozens of Android-based hardware brands producing low-cost devices which do the basics relatively well. Of course, the camera won’t compare to the likes of the Google Pixel, the hardware itself won’t have the sleek industrial design of an iPhone, by any means. But tier three smartphones are fully functioning and satisfy many regions around, albeit on a basic level.
So why do tier three mobile devices account for over 50% of the global smartphone market? If you haven’t guessed it yet, it’s region-specific and it’s affordability. This is a good time to stop reading, take a look at your smartphone, and think about exactly how much it is costing you in terms of the monthly contract and/or hardware cost. That simply isn’t an option for a great many people, whether that’s low income households in the UK, or the developing world where mobile technology adoption moves at a far slower pace.
What good is a 5G handset in a country with little-to-no wireless telecoms infrastructure? Or a power-hungry smartphone that needs a daily charge in an area where families see electricity as a luxury? A top tier smartphone is a product of the first world, and with every new high speed, high definition feature that rolls out, the associated infrastructure around it needs to move at a similar pace. A prime example being Apple’s introduction of the ProRes RAW video format, will need a fast mobile internet or broadband connection for the user to be able to share a clip of any reasonable size.
An argument against developing for one device
Developing countries where Android devices are prevalent do not get access to iPhone-only apps. Why is this happening? Research suggests that developing for iOS is easier due to the apps only needing to run on whichever devices are in Apple’s currently supported product line. At the time of writing, Apple’s latest iOS (14.4) is supported by eight versions comprising 19 devices.
When developing for Android, app developers must consider the many brands, dozens of screen sizes/ratios, and hundreds of devices throughout the market. However, this fragmentation is becoming easier to manage, with mobile technologies making Android development more universal.
So who suffers here? Ultimately, it’s the user. The overriding feeling is that the biggest and best apps come to iPhone first. Thankfully, there are many app developers and publishers bringing invaluable Android apps right into the hands of those who need them most. Some great examples being Platix, an app for developing world farmers, Peek, an app for detecting vision impairment using the smartphone’s screen itself, and Smile Train’s app, which helps children improve their speech after cleft palate surgery. It’s clear to see that these apps are developed primarily for Android due to the availability of low cost handsets. But for the most part, Android users will miss out on prime apps more often than not, moreso in regions of the world where third tier or legacy devices are prevalent.
An argument for developing for one device
App developers aren’t all expansive studios of engineers, testers, researchers and artists. Many of the world’s most popular apps started out as a bedroom venture or a scribble in the back of an enthusiastic student’s notepad. When an app idea is born, there is an inherent cost. The studios cover this with existing revenue, or funding if they’re a startup. But when it’s a homegrown outfit, it’s self-funded. Costs need to be kept low, and on top of that, there’s no guarantee that the app will be a hit and start to bring in revenue. For that reason, hobby developers won’t have the time, resources or budget to build an app for two entirely different platforms. So the sensible choice of the two seems to be iOS due to that easier on-ramp that we spoke about earlier.
There’s no real strong conclusion we can make here, and it can actually get quite complex when you start to look into it too deeply; developing countries should have access to the same standards of technology as first world countries, but is there a pressing need for the likes of Clubhouse (iPhone only, for now) in places where you’re lucky to have electricity or running water? And on the flip side, would Apple even approve half of the super niche apps that have made their way into the Android app ecosystem, which boasts almost a million more apps than Apple’s?
Clubhouse is a really good example of a ‘shot-in-the-dark’ app that made it big. Favoured initially as a way for people like you and I to rub shoulders with celebrities, it’s quickly becoming the hot new platform for anyone to engage in a big group chat about whatever the topic entails. But I can’t help but think how useful a voice-only app experience would be in regions where mobile data simply cannot support video, and where people would truly benefit on a societal and economic level from being better connected to one another.
Bucking the trend in the green corner, it was great to see Polestar launching their ‘P2’ electric vehicle with Android Automotive OS (the first production car to feature it), whilst offering no initial support for Apple’s CarPlay. That support has since been added, and I’d be guessing if I told you what caused the delay. Are Android’s APIs more accessible and easier to work with for vehicle manufacturers?
Engineering mobile tech into something as large as a car is one thing, but let’s also look the other way. Wearables. This is an area where Apple clearly dominates the market, with a majority share of 30%, alongside Huawei’s 14% and Samsung’s 7%. The smartwatch endured the pandemic, no doubt thanks to their contactless payment functionality, with almost 42 million units shipped worldwide in the first half of 2020 alone.
Retailers can win favour with early adopters by being early adopters themselves. This pattern of behaviour goes a long way in the brand-centric world of consumer tech.
It’s not unusual to see Apple Pay signs on petrol station forecourts and shop windows. Android Pay is gently muscling in too, but this isn’t the usual tech duopoly story. Did you know about Samsung Pay? Did you know that it’s baked into every new piece of mobile hardware that they sell? Adoption of Samsung Pay is slow, with many retailers unaware of its existence. It feels a bit like the American Express of the mobile payments world – you have to pipe up and ask “Do you take Samsung Pay?” With the response likely being “What’s that?”
The message here is clear. Don’t ignore the minorities. Whilst Samsung only accounts for 7% of global smartwatch shipments in 2020, that number will surely grow, as will the popularity of Samsung Pay. Retailers can win favour with early adopters by being early adopters themselves. This pattern of behaviour goes a long way in a brand-centric world.
In an ideal world, apps would come to both platforms at the same time. Will these rival platforms start to work together to make that possible for app developers? Not likely. It’s no secret app stores are huge revenue sources for the OS manufacturers, with both taking a sizable cut of all app sales. So it makes perfect sense for them to concentrate on their own ecosystems before working with one another.
When we consider what we do as an agency, our values and our work with the fourth sector, we certainly favour Android’s affordability and reach. From a sustainability level, Apple definitely ticks all the boxes in terms of green credentials, supporting diversity, and minimising waste from legacy devices. But without a device or group of devices that can be put into the hands of the less fortunate, like entry-level Android devices, they’re perhaps not as progressive as they’d like us to think.
Let us know what you think.