Over the weekend well-known VC/blogger Fred Wilson of Union Square Ventures reiterated his call for companies to shift to a Android-first development stance over iOS. This was instigated by some new stats from Comscore on OS marketshare.
There was a predictable response from the pro-Apple camp. Frankly there are arguments to be made from either side, but most of the valid arguments get lost in the religious fervor that seems to pervade the debate.
But I found a post from Instapaper founder, Marco Arment, that I felt was instructive in contemplating what platform to prioritize. Marco was nice enough to share statistics regarding the OS & device share of Instapaper iPhone users. He started tracking this information so that he could better understand his customers better and know when he could start dropping support of older OS verisons (NB: good best practice to follow). He wrote the post because felt it would be useful info for other developers…exactly the reason I’m sharing it.
And one thing I like about stats is that it’s pretty hard to spin them and therefore they help facilitate a more objective analysis.
OS fragmentation is important because it has a major impact in how long you need to support code and also what restrictions you have on bringing new features to market. Happily mobile devices are far more current than desktops and laptops (says a guy who’s writing this on a PC that’s running Windows XP). But it’s not an insignificant issue.
Marco’s stats show that iPhone and iPad users are very good at upgrading their devices to the latest OS. While his stats are only for his users, they’re in-line with numbers from Bump, so I would say that they’re pretty reliable as a benchmark for you to use.
As you can see almost 6 out of 10 are on the very latest version of iOS, more than 9 out of 10 are on 4.2 and virtually all are on iOS 4.0 or higher. The numbers are similar for the iPad.
Now contrast that with the latest official stats from Android (4/1/11) where 63% of users are on Froyo release (Android 2.2) while only 2.5% are on a version of Gingerbread (2.3) with only Motorola’s XOOM tablet on Honeycomb (3.0). That leaves a full one-third of Android users on Android 2.1 and prior. Now while 2.1 and 2.2 don’t sound like a big difference version-number-wise, the functionality and performance of the two versions are very different indeed. Froyo brought the much-heralded Adobe Flash compatibility (albeit most Froyo devices today don’t have CPUs to support hardware acceleration in 10.2).
Further many of the Android handsets are hampered from being upgraded to new OS versions by the handset makers who have implemented custom UI mechanisms. So the lag for keeping the Android OS current will always be pretty significant as the only way many Android owners can upgrade their OS is to buy a new phone — meaning it could be a 1-2 year drag as many wait for the contracts to end.
So, just a little more food for thought as you prioritize your mobile development resources. Don’t just think about market share, think about the implications for your development team too.