The Smartphone App Wars Are Over, and Apple Won

This week, Harry McCracken is a brilliant man, mostly because he agrees with me. For some time, I have been opining about the state of the Android app market compared to the Apple App Store. There is no comparison. Apple's App Store is far superior to everything out there. It is not just the number of apps. That is not a very interesting metric to me. It is the quality and innovation. iOS apps are better than everything else, and they represent the most interesting, new ideas from the most talented developers. Android is destined to be the second-hand store of recycled ideas. That proposition is no longer up for debate. The only thing that remains is to figure out why things worked out this way.

In the linked article, McCracken had a few ideas of his own. But I still think he didn't go deep enough. He did have one idea that was worth taking a bit further:

iOS has a cultural advantage in Silicon Valley. As far as I can tell, the majority of the tech execs who decide how to allocate development resources are still iOS users, personally. If they were all required to give up their iPhones for six months in favor of the Android device of their choice, it might change their perspective.

Here lies a greater truth. Both the decision makers and the developers use iOS as their personal platform of choice. When Facebook launched Facebook Home: their failed Android launcher, they perfectly illustrated why iOS won this war. The team tasked to design the app was made up of iOS users. Facebook had to call for its developers to use Android phones in addition to iOS because, otherwise, they didn't use Android by choice. In a company as large as Facebook, they had a hard time finding devs who didn't think in terms of iOS.

The secret to Apple's app success is that they designed a product for the utility and delight of average end users. Other companies still can't bring themselves to do this. Competitors design for investors, carriers, advertisers, developers, and their own manufacturing efficiencies. The end user barely figures into it. If you think about it, there can be no more developer-friendly OS than Android. Google gives developers everything they think they want. Google does not curate your app out of existence. They don't seen to care about IP infringement. They allow devs to produce code for the simplest languages without regard to quality. The OS i free and devices are cheap. It is a developer's paradise.

By contrast, Apple will throw your app out of the store, or block it with very little explanation. There are more disallowed categories than allowed. iOS is one of the most technically difficult languages to code for. Competition is fierce, and devices are expensive. Apple did absolutely nothing to make life easier for developers, and they still don't. iOS developers have to go through more hoops than a basketball. Yet that is where the best and brightest developers line up.

What Apple created was something that average people want to own and use. Developers are also people. They also want to own and use iPhones as personal devices. They don't just want to make the next great app. They also want to buy and use the next great app. They are not just developers, but fans. For many, they became iOS developers because they were fans of the platform, not the other way around.

When google created their platform, they did not see end users, but a business opportunity. That is exactly what Android developers see. Apple created iOS to suit the needs of their users. Developers are more inclined to be end users, and on iOS, are more inclined to develop for the end user experience. This is not a matter of numbers or marketshare. This is all about developer and user passion. Android is never going to have the lion's share of that.

David Johnson