Why ‘iOS only’ is a bad strategy

Why ‘iOS only’ is a bad strategy

The launch of the iPhone in 2007 opened our eyes to what was possible with mobile computing and captured the hearts of many millions of users (over 183 million of them so far). From a developer’s point of view it was a massive leap forward for mobile, for a couple of reasons:

For the first time we had a web browser that could accurately reproduce everything we can do on the desktop web (except Flash of course but that’s a can of worms…) including not just HTML4 and CSS but proper HTML5 and CSS3 support, surpassing most desktop web browsers. This meant that users could enjoy the ‘whole web’ and we no longer had to build simple cut down versions of websites to work on less compatible devices.

Secondly, although ‘apps’ had existed before (there was a fairly popular java app ecosystem already in place on Symbian devices, e.g. Nokia phones), Apple coined the phrase ‘app store’ and put them all in one accessible and easy to use marketplace. The popularity of mobile apps soared overnight and this business model has subsequently been copied by the likes of Google, RIM (Blackberry) and Microsoft.

The popularity of the iPhone caused an explosion in mobile web usage and developers had to start paying attention, but success breeds imitation and unfortunately some businesses are still making the mistake of thinking that iPhone is still the only kid in town. The truth is that it’s not even the biggest these days and could be in third place by 2015 if recent analyst reports are to be believed.

The trouble is that most people only own one mobile phone, which isn’t surprising really. This means that business owners only have personal experience of one platform and often disregard the rest. I’ve lost count of the number of times we’ve been asked to build an iPhone App, with no mention of Android, Windows Mobile, Blackberry or WebOS.

If you want to plan an effective mobile strategy for your business then it’s important to be guided by statistics and empirical evidence rather than anecdotal evidence and personal experience.
iPhone vs Android statistics

The smartphone race is currently a two horse race between Apple and Google.

Despite a year long head-start, iPhone sales were overtaken by sales of Android devices a while ago (2010 according to Nielsen) and Google are still activating more Android devices on a daily basis that Apple are shipping iPhones. The current share of smartphone ownership (January 2012, worldwide) is as follows…

1) Android – 46.9%
2) iPhone – 28.7%
3) Blackberry – 16.6%
4) Windows Mobile – 5.2%

As I mentioned earlier, research from Gartner even suggests that Windows Mobile, buoyed by their exclusive partnership with Nokia might have knocked Apple into third place by 2015.

Despite the figures, developers and agencies have been guilty of ignoring other platforms too. Many agencies only use Apple kit in house and have been slow to see the potential of other platforms, often citing the fact that iOS users buy more apps and spend more money per head. This has been historically true but the difference is now marginal and when you consider the number of Android devices in consumer’s hands the situation has turned round massively.

The upshot is that developers, agencies and their clients are coming round to the idea that ‘iOS-only’ is a bad strategy and one that’s going to leave more than 50% of their target market in the cold. That also applies to tablet PCs (The iPad is still top dog but not for much longer). A recent report by research firm Ovum (http://ovum.com) says that 2012 will be the year that many developers will start to go ‘Android-first’, testing the market with an Android app first before creating an iPhone version. In my opinion this doesn’t make sense either, but it shows just how much the mobile landscape has changed.

Of course, it’s more expensive to develop two, three or even four versions of your new app, but in an upcoming article, I’ll explain how HTML 5 apps could save the day and lower development costs for ‘multi-platform apps’.