Another Filed Under “This Word Doesn’t Mean What You Think it Means”

Scott Francis
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Sarah Perez of TechCrunch writes an article under the heading “Startups Apparently Do Not Care that Android is Better” – using Paul Stamatiou’s original blog post as fodder for her follow-on.

The iOS-first mentality is so ingrained in the culture of the tech and startup scene, in fact, that Facebook had once plastered large signs around its offices begging employees to switch to Android. Later, the company released its own take on what Android users supposedly want with “Facebook Home,” an Android launcher that quickly tanked. Had Facebookers understood the true ethos of Android, they would have perhaps realized that Android users favor the customization and personalization aspects of the platform. Meanwhile, Facebook Home was a full-on takeover of the entire Android interface and experience, with little wiggle room to change much of anything about its behavior.

So, maybe Android is better and all those startups and developers are just crazy, clueless, or following the herd.  Maybe they’re ignoring advice from Fred Wilson dating back to 2010 (Android First), because they think they’re smarter than Fred.  Or maybe it has something to do with her next paragraph:

If you look at Android’s top charts, you’ll find they’re continually filled with apps that let users tweak, customize, and better control their Android devices. For instance, in July of this year, the top five paid Android apps included a keyboard replacement (Swiftkey) in the No. 1 position, a fairly geeky utility for users who had rooted their phones (Titanium Backup) in the No. 2 position, and an alternative launcher (Nova) as No. 4, according to analytics firm Distimo.

I’m not sure Android can be “better” as long as these are the examples of top apps, from a startup perspective.  I don’t want to write the next Swiftkey. Startup founders would much rather here that Angry Birds is #1.  Writing the next game or productivity app is much more intellectually stimulating (and likely to form a business) than writing something that the Operating System should be doing instead.

So Android is better if you consider one of these two values:

  • Control over the environment, per user (things like swapping keyboards or input methods).  This has real value, to real users.  But not equal value to all users. And to some users, this is even a negative rather than a positive.
  • Volume of devices in the market.

However, if you’re trying to launch your new startup, and a mobile app is part of your strategy (it is), then “better” means:

  • Which platform helps you build buzz for your app or startup?
  • Which platform is likely being used by your target early audience and reviewers (tech press, investors, entrepreneurs, etc.)?
  • Which platform is likely to make money for your fledgling startup?
  • Which platform offers a high quality, consistent user experience in a single deployment of an app?
  • Which platform seems to require approximately 1/3 the development effort?
  • Which platform has minimal device and OS fragmentation?

Oh boy.  I’m just getting started.  Of course, a third option is Web App first (HTML).  And I use one daily that works well in that mode – forecast.io.  To her credit, Sarah cites these as reasons startups target iOS first – but yet she doesn’t qualify these as things that make iOS “better” to startups…

The implication that all these people starting up firms are just lemmings who don’t get that Android is winning is just silly.  And we may reach a tipping point on some of the metrics above that leads startups to go to Android first.  But the tipping point won’t just happen because Android has more users.  It has to also have more users who are spending money (among other things).  From the very end of the article:

And there is some indication that Android users are hungry for great apps. A year after Instagram arrived on Android, for example, half of its users came from that platform.

Two issues with this example. First, it just proves the hunger for free apps.  Second, the example proves the rule – be successful on iOS first – and then success on Android is much easier as a second act.