Ask LH: Why Don't We See More Android Apps?

Dear Lifehacker, Why is it that so many large companies are tripping over themselves to make iPhone apps, but leave Android users out in the cold? For example, ANZ has a fantastic app for iPhones, but the Android app is merely a wrapper for their website. Channel 7 also has an app for iPhone and iPad, but not Android.

Despite the popularity of the iPhone, considering that the platform is unique to Apple, surely there are more people overall with Android phones? Do these large companies realise that despite trying to be 'cool' and creating apps, they are still neglecting half their possible audience? And is there anything we can do about it?

Thanks Don't Void The Droid

Dear DVTD,

The short answer to your question: we're slowly seeing a shift towards more Android apps, but it's not going to happen in a massive hurry. And it's not an unreasonable attitude, especially from Australian companies. While it's widely expected that Android will become the biggest-selling smartphone platform in Australia within a year or so (something that has already happened in the US), that hasn't happened yet.

Debates about the merits of the platforms aside, iPhone has dominated Australia for a while for a couple of clear reasons. Because the iPhone has always been available in Australia with a choice of carriers, its market share has been higher than in other parts of the world. And because many Android phones hit Australia months later than elsewhere in the world, adoption of the Google-based platform has also been slower.

According to recent IDC figures, the iPhone accounts for 40% of the local smartphone market, while Android has 30%. It seems likely that Android will catch up with iPhone this year, suggesting that companies should put more effort into developing for Android as well.

There's some evidence for that: demand for freelance Android developers is steadily rising, for example. And we are seeing more apps from major corporations. Commonwealth Bank, for instance, recently updated both its iPhone and Android apps. Domino's is offering apps for multiple platforms, as well as a mobile-specific site that can work on any browser.

That last development does suggest one reason why there might not be the same flood of apps for Android as we've seen for the iPhone: some companies have worked out that building a site which anyone on a smartphone can access is frequently a better idea than spending a lot of money on an app that doesn't offer additional functionality. If an app makes specific use of the phone's features, it might be a good investment, but a very large number of apps really don't do anything a browser couldn't. Not every business that has invested in an iOS app will necessarily want to repeat the experience.

Assuming they do, what can you do to accelerate the process? It certainly doesn't hurt to drop a friendly note to companies whose sites you use regularly, pointing out that you'd love to see an Android version of existing apps. Perhaps even more useful is to use your Android device to visit those sites. Businesses can keep track of which platforms are used to access their resources, and a steady stream of Android visitors might be persuasive.

Cheers Lifehacker

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    As a software developer, my reason for why I don't develop for Android yet is because simply it's much more complicated than iOS. If I have money to employ more people I'd certainly start porting to Android (and WebOS of course). When there's only a few of us developing, it's a little bit hard to do it.

    I don't even know which Android device I need to buy for testing. If I've bought a Nexus, then how do I account for the 3.5" screen? If I've bought Samsung Galaxy S 2, then how do I know if the performance's good for other phones?

    In the iOS world, the rule of thumb is basically to test with the oldest and newest phone. iPhone 3G running 3.1.3 and iPhone 4 running 4.3 is all you need and everything in between is guaranteed to run.

      Use a device emulator and tell it what the dpi is

      As for "too complex" well... I cant help you there.. if your skill is in iOS the do what you know, is the best approach.

      Agreed. I see a few reasons why iPhone apps are far more prominent:

      1) Many companies looking to have a mobile application built only have a limited budget and, in many cases, that budget can only extend to a single app. Given the the iPhone has a greater market penetration in Australia (and certainly is better marketed), that's the natural choice for most companies.

      2) APIs and platforms aside, the testing budget for an Android app is noticeably higher than the equivalent iPhone app, due to the much greater diversity of hardware requirements out there. Whilst an emulator helps in some of these cases, it's not a magical fix that solves the problem.

      3) Some platform-independent layers don't give the 'expected' user experience for each particular platform; iPhone users expect a certain set of controls in one arrangement, but it's different on Android.

      Personally, I think Microsoft have the right idea with WM7 in limiting a lot of the hardware requirements on their devices. I thought that Google were starting to do the same thing with Honeycomb (1280x800 screens, Tegra 2), until the recent changes where they've started expanding support.

    x 2 monkey_do. At my smallish software company is we have chosen to build a rich web app and an ios app for iphone and ipad. Looking into it we could not see how we could afford to support the multitude of Android based options or spend the time developing to make it work on the varied devices. iOs is elegant to develop for. Android users in our client base can opt for the slightly less featured web app.

    Apple has ruined the phone browser experience. Companies jumped on the app wagon and moved away from mobile friendly sites, it makes no sense to me.

    Bring back mobile friendly sites

      Basically this. I prefer to use the Facebook mobile site than the App; the same goes for my online banking, checking bus timetables etc. The mobile sites typically have greater functionality than the application, are often faster and can be accessed on any modern smartphone browser. So, with a tabbed browser I can access greater functionality with a single icon on my homescreen.

      Apps are accessing the same databases, they're just not downloading graphics and UI every time - but mobile data is cheap enough these days that this isn't really an issue.

    I don't really understand why companies do this. Why are they forcing people to buy a specific device if they want to interact via mobile? Companies should be looking to building platform-independent mobile apps, like those being offered by startups like BlinkMobile here, or DeviceMagic in South Africa. There are probably stacks more startups out there taking a similar approach.

    Android as a platform will struggle in Australia because it doesn't have the same support as Apple gives it's Australian customers. Until Google starts releasing a lot of these US only services in Australia people will continue using Apple.

    My theory is mostly that Apple claimed and so far has successfully claimed the "Brand" and common understanding ground.

    ANZ want to sell to what gets the most TV/radio/web time.. Apple does that. Android just doesn't have the public's attention at the moment.
    Especially as there are so many different "Brands" to Android.

    All these comments about compatibility between devices and screen sizes. People take a look at the Windows Phone.

    MS is the only group that have gotten this right

    Unfortunately it's the fragmentation of devices on Android and, historically, the way the Marketplace worked. Australian developers couldn't even earn an income from the Android Marketplace until relatively recently. In addition, Apple users in general are also more profitable than Android users. So for paid apps which need to be paid due to the extensive development costs, the clear winner is Apple. This is all changing of course...

    Androids open-ness is also its achiles heal... What works on one iPhone, will work on another... What works on one android device, might not work on another, its that simple...

    I am an android user, Its nice to do what I want, not what apple want. This is my apple free, fewer apps bed... Im happy to sleep here :)

    i think more people in australia are technotarded...the majority of people in the law office i work at don't know they have options, they think only an iproduct has a browser and music player...they don't know free apps exist, or that digital music is even a possibility outside of itunes

    when i tell them that my (android) phone 'can do that too', they look at me like i'm lying

      OP here... thank you everyone for all the comments, they are very illuminating.

      +1 to the above comment though. I believe this is why a majority of my friend's work phones are iphones; because the people in charge don't understand there are alternatives.

      I agree, but I'd also consider the high probability that the average technotard who can do stuff on their iPhone probably wouldn't be able to work out how to do the same on the Android - hence the response they give when we show them it can be done.

      They know us techno-heads can do all this stuff - they're just happy that, for once, they can do cool techno-things without our help.

    The core reason for this is that the decision makers at most of these companies don't really understand the mobile market.
    A simplistic approach driven by the fear of missing out on an opportunity has led them to build only an iPhone app. For many companies this doesn't leave them in a good strategic position as the mobile marketplace diversifies.

      Yes, I agree. So many professionals I talk too, even those in IT, simply don't realise that Android is right up there with Apple, and that it can do everything an iPhone can.

      The decision makers at these companies have had Apple marketing rammed down their throats for years, and wrongly believe that there is no serious competition.

      These companies are already losing out by not servicing the rapidly growing Android user-base.

      Also, I think the technical excuses for not developing in Android are rapidly disappearing and the developers are not keeping up with the changes.

    simple solution build web apps

    most Apple Apps are web site scrappers anyway. As Mark stated, bring back mobile web sites that work on all devices, single development done at the web site!

    A dozen comments and each of them giving a different reason as for why Android apps aren't being developed. Goes to show that nobody has any clue when it comes to matters like this.

      +1 dude. Android emulation does what it's supposed to, and on top of that, every manufacturer also has their own plugins for Eclipse etc so you can make double sure. Good Android devs get feedback (if users give it instead of just low rating and bitching on the market), and there's a tonne of money to be made. Gross generalisation, but if you develop some little useful app, and sell it for $1, if it serves a purpose then people generally won't blink at buying it. Sell 10,000 copies and you've just made $10k (ish). Then make little addons like skins etc and sel them cheap and you make more money. There's money to be had, you just have to be smart enough to know how to earn it.

      Or there's a lot of reasons why it's not happening, whech seems far more likely.

    +1 for mobile web sites.

    Most companies already have interactive websites which means the content is already there, creating a multi-platform mobile web site would be a hell of a lot cheaper than building an app for apple, android, MS and blackberry.

    HTML5 will kill most apps I believe. tumblr is a pretty good example which I use.

    As I see it, in Australia adopting new technology is very slow, compared to US and Europe. In any platform, hardware or software, we are a good 12 months behind US and Europe. This could be due to our smaller market.

    I also feel most of the companies and developers here are just focusing on the current market and completely disregard the future opportunities. If I was a betting man, I would put more money on the future markets, its well know the early adopters make more money than the followers.

      Actually Australia and NZ are considered bellwhether markets for technology as the update of new stuff is much faster than in Europe and North America.

      This has been let down more recently by the lagging broadband infrastructure (but I can tell you first hand that can be extremely poor in areas of high density Western Europe). I nearly laughed out loud when I saw an add from Bouygues Telecom advertising their new ultrafast broadband technology: the ad is shot in Sydney, starting at Luna Park!

    I wonder if there will be swing from the devs. In 2 years time will we hear devs saying 'we only develop android apps as we don't have the capacity to also dev for iOS'

    I don't doubt that apple prefers it that iOS apps are easier to develop. Easier = faster and more of = higher consumer incentive to buy into iOS. Then follows iTunes, then follows the app store and voila, apple is everywhere and has your credit card number.

    Once something becomes an "app", then Apple's thought police get to regulate it. If it stays as a mobile site *with exactly the same content* then they have no control over it.

    There's a simple point understood well by ihHone developers (and I am one). iPhone users (for whatever reason) are quite happy to pay real money for apps. Android users much less so (try it - ask a roomful of iPhone users whether they paid for an app in the last week, ditto for android users. There's a difference.)

    Essentially, there's just not as much bang for buck in writing android apps.

    As an Android developer I have developed dozens of apps commercially (been operating as an android dev for little over 4 months now) but never release them to the public. I charge for the development of the app then they are free to distribute it to any android device they see fit for their purposes, however there is a 12 month subscription cost for tech support with the app (3 months included with app purchase) I have developed POS systems, secure VPN apps, Internal communications/database access etc.

    If you want an android app you can hire someone to make it and personally my prices are reasonable (equivelant of charging approx $35 per hour per programmer/tester)

    Don't forget that the amount spent per user or per app is much higher on iOS. Most data I've seen shows that Android users are much less likely to pay for apps. That is clearly a big driver for development too, especially for paid apps.

    Another fundamental reason is on Android due to support for Flash, users can view the websites as they are without a need to making it an app.

    I can use ANZ online banking without having an 'app' but only on android.

    More apps for apple i-phone because android can simply use the brower without the issues of no flash player. that's my take on it.

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