Exactly six months ago, Eric Schmidt made a remark that in the near future, developers might want to focus on Android first, instead of iOS. While developers haven’t moved to Android-first, iOS-later en masse, there’s no denying that we’re seeing more and more former iOS exclusives move towards Android.
Back in early December of last year, Eric Schmidt said the following, addressing a single audience member directly:
Ultimately, application vendors are driven by volume, and volume is favored by the open approach Google is taking. There are so many manufacturers working so hard to distribute Android phones globally that whether you like ICS or not – and again I like it a great deal – you will want to develop for that platform, and perhaps even first. So think of it as a transition over the next 6 months.
Whether or not this prediction came true really depends on how you interpreted Smidth’s words in the first place. Bloggers firmly in the iOS camp read it as “everything will be Android first, iOS later”, while in my view, Schmidt’s words are a lot less finite than that, thanks to terms like “will want to” and “perhaps”. The first group are having a field day, while I’m mostly thinking – aren’t we actually witnessing them coming true right now?
Several key iOS exclusives have made the move to Android these past few months. First, we had Instagram releasing an Android version of its photo sharing application, leading to a whole stream of hilariously houtain responses (see what I did there with the French and all). Flipboard soon followed, and even Instapaper, whose sole developer was probably most vocal in his disdain for the Android platform, had to face the music and move to Android.
While this clearly isn’t the same as everyone developing for Android first and iOS second, it’s clear many big-time applications – and now even tried and true iOS exclusives – just can’t get around Android anymore, which is exactly what Schmidt alluded to.
On top of that, there’s a group of developers often wholly ignored by popular technology media and bloggers. People who don’t code elegant Twitter cients, beautiful reader applications, or other intriguing applications; people who, instead, focus on the nitty gritty, getting down to the very core of the operating system, porting it to different devices, fiddling with drivers, frameworks, and other lower-level stuff. Those surveys you read about asking application developers if they go iOS or Android? Yeah, they don’t catch this particular, hugely valuable breed of developers.
These people almost exclusively flock to Android due to its open nature, and one has to take but a single peek at the xda forums to realize the huge amount of talented developers and potential flowing through the lower levels of the Android operating system. If you worry about fonts and icon detail all day, and never fully embrace Android and all that comes with it, it’s easy to overlook this hugely important group of people. iOS has such hackers too – but in far more limited numbers.
It’s because of these very people that I have more faith in Android’s long-term staying power (i.e., how fast it will evolve) than in that of iOS. I’ve mentioned this before, but the more you lock your users out of the lower levels of your operating system, the harder it becomes for people to actually learn how to hack away at such things. You’re basically chopping down the tree the branch you’re sitting on is attached to.
So, while Schmidt’s words haven’t come true to their fullest extent, it’s easy to look at Android and see that more and more application developers are embracing it, while at the same time, Android has a far larger following of programmers hacking away the lower levels. Android has many, many flaws, but developer support is not one of them.