This Still Seems Obvious

  • June 30, 2014
  • Scott

It still seems obvious to me why startups target iOS over Android for their first target platform.  I’m not sure why it isn’t obvious to pundits on the subject.  They assume that raw numbers will dictate mindshare of startups, eventually. And they tend to ascribe the “stickiness” of iOS to the fact that most startup founders have iPhones right now, rather than Android devices (and build for what they know).  In case anyone is doubting which platform is first in startups’ minds:

Instead, most promising app startups with venture capital investments that we analyzed are either building apps for iOS and Android simultaneously or are still iOS-only. Looking at 119 recent Y Combinator incubator participants and Google Ventures seed investments, of those offering apps, more than 90% had iOS apps, about half had both iOS and Android apps, and fewer than 10% only had Android apps. Among those with both, their iOS app typically launched several months ahead of their Android app.

The reasons should be obvious:

  • If you have the focus and funds to build one app and iterate on it quickly, you target the platform that gets you the most users in your target demographic, at the last cost.
  • We should clarify – platform really should include OS versioning number.  And hardware specs that have an impact on deployment. Ideally you want one form factor, one OS version.  See “least cost” above.
  • Discoverability isn’t ideal on iOS but it is still better than on Android.
  • The fact that the platform is a minority of total users doesn’t really matter.  It is a large cohort.  And if the startup gets traction, other platforms can be targeted when funding is plentiful rather than when it is scarce.

The factors of familiarity, better development tools, and eating your own dogfood are all good anecdotal arguments.  But at the end of the day I think startup founders feel that the likelihood of getting a “hit” is higher on iOS, and the cost to develop the app is lower (due to platform homogeneity, among other things).

And yet:

It has been a year now, but Dixon concedes in an email to Quartz, “I don’t think it has happened yet.” Android versions tend to come simultaneously or very soon after iOS, he said, but they have not overtaken iOS. He adds, “I’m not sure it’s rational for people to keep building iOS first. I think the main reason is simply that the vast majority of tech people have iPhones.”

I just think that is selling startup founders short, not to assume they have better reasons than that they use iPhones too.  I think it is safer to assume that they have good reasons and to try to understand them  in order to inform your investments.




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  • If the ‘main reason is simply that the vast majority of tech people have iPhones”, I not really sure that we are asking the right question here.

    Afterall, if most startups are trying to solve a problem that they understand and they have iphones. In many (but not all) cases, that means that similar people — the majority of tech people according to C Dixon – will also have an iphone and the same problem.

    The real question here is why don’t more start-up founders or ‘tech people’ have android devices?

    • yeah, i think the thing is, they know why “tech people” buy iPhones instead.
      Also, if the economics were truly stacked against iOS development, people would develop for Android anyway. Windows 3.1 wasn’t better than Mac OS back in the day but it still drew more developers due to the economics. The platform was homogeneous *enough* to not worry about it for basic productivity applications (though games were a different story with video cards etc.) .

      The other mistake I think people make is thinking history repeats itself. History repeats itself – but with new wrinkles every time – which is why we humans misread the tea leaves so often!

  • Bill Tanner

    Speaking to mobile application developers, one of the main reasons they prefer to develop iOS applications over Andriod is simply put down to the number of devices you need to cater for. iOS devices you can count on 2 hands, whereas with Andriod there are hundreds of devices. Testing against even a subset (or “popular” devices) of those hundreds takes time, time a start-up (or a fixed time project) doesn’t normally have.

    • 100% agreement. This argument might not work if the volume of iOS devices was super small (10’s of thousands for example), but when the market is 100’s of millions, that’s plenty of room to run.