What it is: The Apple App Store provides a curated, one-stop shopping solution for buying software.
One key metric for choosing any platform is the number of software programs available. One reason why MS-DOS and later Windows took over the operating system market was because both operating systems attracted the most developers, which in turn attracted more customers in an ever increasing cycle. Why bother developing for rival operating systems when you could make the most money on MS-DOS/Windows instead?
That same rationale for choosing MS-DOS/Windows now works against everyone but Android and iOS. Why bother writing software for Blackberry OS or Windows Phone when the more lucrative market isn’t on those platforms?
What really made software far more interesting and lucrative was the creation of the Apple App Store, which they later used to create the Macintosh App Store. The basic idea behind Apple’s original App Storen was to provide a single, curated online store where anyone could buy apps. If you remember the old days of mobile phones, the software business model looked distressingly like the desktop PC market where anyone could offer software through a web site.
The problem with this chaotic approach is that it made software harder to find. For developers, that meant creating a web site to sell software while also spending money on packaging and distribution to sell software through physical retail stores.
By eliminating retail stores, the Apple App Store simplified the lives of both developers and customers alike. Developers no longer had to worry about marketing or accepting payments since the App Store took care of those messy details (for a 30% fee of each sale. Customers didn’t have to worry about finding software since they knew if it was available, it could only be sold through the Apple App Store.
A convenient side benefit of this curated App Store was the tradeoff between convenience and security. By curating each app, Apple delayed sales for developers, but insured (for the most part) that customers wouldn’t download booby-trapped software or software that didn’t actually work.
Google Play is Android’s answer to Apple’s App Store, and it’s largely succeeded in finally catching up and surpassing the App Store in the sheer number of apps available. The problem is that Google Play still lags behind in profitability and convenience.
Just like the old desktop PC days, piracy runs rampant among Android because of its open nature. Anyone can offer Android apps, which means the potential of downloading malicious apps or simply apps that don’t work as advertised is far greater, eroding the customer’s experience using Android.
Perhaps the most telling distinction is that Android customers tend to be less likely to purchase apps at all. Developers consistently earn far less selling Android apps than they do iOS apps.
If you’re an app developer, your best bet is to target the more lucrative iOS market first and follow up with an Android version later if possible. If you’re a customer looking for the best user experience, the iOS ecosystem still offers many advantages that Android cannot.
The App Store was a minor revolution in changing the way people market software and the way people shopped for software. With Apple updating iOS to extend the life of older iPhones and iPads, Apple has an incentive to make sure as many people as possible can use the latest apps.
On the other hand in the Android world, Android device manufacturers only make money selling devices so they don’t want to waste money and time updating their devices to run the latest version of Android. That means more fragmentation for Android and outdated operating systems for the majority of Android users.
While both Android and iOS work and perform in much the same way, the big difference revolves around apps. As long as it’s more profitable to target iOS first, iOS will always be the leader. Until Android can solve its multitude of problems inherent with its distribution model that gives manufacturers no incentive to update their devices, Android will always be fragmented.
Combine fragmentation with ar easier piracy and far fewer sales, and developers will likely spend more time and earn less money developing Android apps than they will with comparable iOS apps.
Unless things change in the future, iOS offers more advantages for both developers and customers alike. Remember, it’s not the operating system that matters so much as what you can do with it. If you want to customize your operating system, then Android is the better choice. If you prefer the convenience of using an operating system, then iOS is likely the better option.
The difference is the App Store, and that’s Apple’s greatest advantage as they extend iOS beyond the iPhone and iPad to the new wearable computer market with the Apple Watch.