Harry McCracken, “United’s In-Flight Video Streaming: More Evidence That Apple Won the App Wars”:
Much of the time, I’m an Android user myself, so I’m happy when something is available for Google’s operating system and sorry when it isn’t. But despite the fact that iOS’s market share is much smaller than that of Android, and has been for years, Apple devices are still nearly always first in line when a major company or hot startup has to decide where to allocate its development resources. That’s a dynamic that pundits keep telling us makes no sense — but it’s happening, and it’s an enormous competitive advantage for Apple. Sounds like a victory to me.
I largely agree with McCracken, but I’ll quibble over a word choice. Calling it an “app war” misses the key element that has given iOS such a strong position. iOS has a gazillion apps, available and easily installed from an app store. Android has a gazillion apps, available and easily installed from various app stores — and all Android phones from major brands come with the standard Google Play store pre-installed. If all you think about are “apps”, it does sound like Android ought to be on even ground, if not outright winning, because of its larger market share.
I’d say it’s an ecosystem war, not an app war — and that once you start thinking about it this way, it makes sense why iOS is ahead, and tends to be supported first (if not exclusively) by things like United’s new in-flight streaming service or Facebook Paper.
Hardware-wise, that there are only a handful of iPhone and iPad models to support makes things easier for developers to target them. Plus, every iOS device ships with a GPU that is now, or within the last two years once was, a top-of-the-line mobile GPU. You can argue (I wouldn’t, but clearly, many do) that from a consumer standpoint, Android’s plethora of device choices is a good thing. But from a third-party developer standpoint, the fewer the devices, the easier it is to support an entire platform. The sweet spot for making a platform appealing to developers is to have many users on a small number of devices. That’s iOS.
Software-wise, iOS and Android are only equivalent on the surface: UNIX-like operating systems under the hood, with a touchscreen UI presented to the user. But from a developer standpoint they’re not equivalent. Android does (or perhaps better put, allows) things iOS does not. But iOS has depth in some areas, like video playback and GPU accelerated animation, where Android is shallow. I’ve spoken to numerous developers from companies with streaming video services, and all of them agree that it is not just easier, but far easier, to support iOS than Android. Apple has decades of experience with video playback (and video editing — something else that’s far more work on Android) and graphics acceleration. iOS can draw a lineage in these regards back to the first versions of QuickTime (1992) and NeXTStep (1989).
I have to agree with John on this, I’ve used Android and I’ve used iOS, and the availability of the App Store tends to make it easier.
And in terms of developing apps, testing on iOS is so much easier, you have to test on a few devices, but no where near what you test with Android. Android, you have to test on many different devices and flavours to make sure all works as expected.