Every good Android fanboy knows and brags about how Google does things differently than Apple. Unlike Apple’s iPhone, the Google Android is open for everyone. However, this is a very serious flaw and it’s seriously hurting Android.

Lets look at the various aspects of the Google’s approach in making Android as different as possible form iOS, and in the process hurt the guys who can make or break it – the App developers.

The Google Strategy

One aspect of Android that has been proudly touted since day one is the fact that it is “open-source.” While Apple is notorious for their iron-fisted control through tactics bordering on the level of a James Bond villain, Google tries to embrace the open spirit of the internet and has been fairly hands-off with Android.

As Senior Vice President Andy Rubin said, “…Google remains firmly committed to Android as an open platform and a vibrant open source community.” They hope to cash in on the same vibe that Linux has enjoyed for years.

By and large, the Google strategy has worked. For truly tech-savvy individuals, Android is the platform of choice. The latest models from Sprint and Verizon like the EVO and the Thunderbolt are easily the equal of the iPhone. And while no Android phone can match Apple’s singularly amazing ability to craft beautiful interfaces, they make up in capabilities what they lack in prettiness.

htc thunderbolt verizon iphone equal

(image credit to talkandroid)

A rooted Android phone is capable of a so much more than even a jailbroken iPhone. Various developer teams and individuals have crafted hundreds of custom ROMs and kernels for the Android enthusiast. And with current events such as HTC’s move to unlock all the bootloaders they ship, Android is the best home for anyone who enjoys modding their phone.

And yet it’s not enough.

How Apple Does It Better

The Android Market is undeniably full of great, high-quality apps. Anybody who’s experienced the addiction that is Cut the Rope or enjoyed free tethering with EasyTether knows that the Market has some great products. However, people who have spent time in the iOS App Store knows the awkward truth: the App Store is just plain better than the Market.

Just look at the differences in profits. Apple raked in 1.78 billion dollars in revenue from the App Store in 2010 from over 10.3 billion downloads. Android, on the other hand, lagged far behind at $102 million from 5.8 billion downloads. Seriously, that’s behind even Blackberry. Customers are paying a whole lot more money over at the App Store and not the Market. Granted, the Market is still growing pretty quickly, but it’s easy to grow from nothing.

apple app store ios iphone ipod touch

But so what? So Steve Jobs (excuse me, Tim Cook) is rolling around in a golden bathtub full of $100 bills with diamond-crusted soap. Why does that mean the Android Market is worse than the iOS App Store?

It all comes down to the developers. Developing apps is a hard job, and often for an uncertain payoff. That means that when choosing whether to create apps for Android or iOS, prospective devs have to look hard and carefully at which has the potential to return the most money for their time and effort. Right now, the winner in that particular category is still iOS.

In 2010, developers who made apps for iOS made fifty times as much as their counterparts on Android. With that kind of financial incentive, fewer devs are willing or even able to make Android apps. As the saying goes, the talent follows the money, and the money is on the iPhone.

But Why Is Apple Ahead?

There are many reasons why Android is so far behind Apple with regards to app volume and quality. The iPhone came first and has had more time for devs to create apps. Android is also growing extremely quickly, and may well catch up with iOS in the future. Google is predicted to have an increase of 295.4 percent in profits this year.

However, I would argue that there is, in fact, another reason for Android’s abysmal app sales, one that goes deeper than just “the iPhone came out first.” Apple maintains unyielding, Lex Luthor-like control over the App Store and iOS as a whole. Nothing happens on your iPhone without already being approved by Apple.

apple evil corporate logo darth vader

(image credit to digitaltrends)

Nobody is going to call their brand of super villainy a good thing, but it does have one unquestionably beneficial effect: App piracy is impossible on the average iPhone. Dastardly thieves who jailbreak can download all the pirated apps their black hearts desire off Installous, but the average iPhone user can’t. And last time I checked, that’s still 90 percent of iPhone owners. While I completely support jailbreaking (I’ve done it to all my iDevices), cutting down on piracy isn’t a bad thing.

Now let’s look at Android. Some of you have probably found this option, but hidden in the Settings app is the option to allow “non-Market” apps to be installed. In theory, this should be used to install and test homebrew apps before releasing them on the Market or for people who don’t have the Market in their countries. It’s all part of Google’s pledge to be open-source and not place Apple-like draconian restrictions on their phones.

The problem is that allowing non-Market apps leaves the metaphorical door hanging completely open to piracy. Pirating an app on Android is absurdly easy. While pirating iPhone apps requires a jailbreak, Cydia, and Installous, Android apps can be downloaded from your browser and installed with a free file explorer, no root required. Android is so open-source that anybody can pirate apps for their phone.

android piracy peg leg logo pirate

(image credit to siliconangle)

And before the “piracy isn’t wrong, it’s fighting evil corporations” crowd shows up in the comments, let’s get this straight: piracy is hurting a lot of honest developers, many of whom need the money for minor things like food or electricity.

I discussed the issue of piracy with David Pietrandrea, one man app developer for iOS. “For a small studio or artist, piracy could potentially make it impossible to continue working. It’s simple economics. If you don’t make a profit from a game, you quite literally cannot continue making them… I’d love to develop for Android soon but, at this time, the majority of Android-users don’t pay for downloads. This is perfectly understandable but doesn’t leave much room for development on that platform right now.”

Dealing With the Consequences

Google’s openness, so celebrated by its fans and supporters, is absolutely hurting Android. One developer reported a 97 percent rate of piracy for his app. Seriously, three percent of all people actually took the time to buy it. With that kind of loss of revenue, one man teams like David simply can’t afford to develop for Android.

Clearly, Google has to come to some kind of reckoning with the issue of their poor Market. They need a way to woo app developers away from Apple. And while they’re starting that, it’s still not enough. Android is so far behind iOS with regards to apps that it’s honestly an embarrassment.

Android will surpass iOS as the most-used phone platform in the world, and it needs the app selection to back that up. I’m not saying that Google should sink to Apple’s level of villany, but they have to do something. Developers and the entire Android community are counting on them.

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  • Ihpton Eflant says:

    Hey, great read! I’ve never actually thought about all that before.