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Android Offers More Flexibility for App Developers

There is no doubt that mobile apps are changing the way businesses engage and communicate with consumers, and have created a brand new industry in mobile app development. Apple was first to market with its App Store and public API program, allowing virtually anyone to create mobile apps and make money (potentially). Android followed shortly after with its App Marketplace, and Windows Phone 7 has recently entered the space as well. And, let's not forget about Blackberry, which owned the smart phone world for years before iPhones and Androids made smart phones cool for everyone, not just executives.
So, as a business leader, where should you focus your mobile apps efforts? Let's look at the numbers.
Apple is leading the way, boasting over 350,000 apps as of May 2011 (check the title tag on the App Store page), but Android is gaining momentum. In fact, in early May, Google confirmed that the Android Market offered over 200,000 apps. Compare that to data from just a year earlier in April 2010: Apple had 185,000 apps compared to Android's 38,000. Clearly, Android is catching up.
As far as device sales, Android has already pulled ahead. Recent data from NPD Group suggest that Android is by far the most popular consumer smart phone platform, owning 53% of the U.S. consumer market share, while both Apple and Blackberry (RIM) have just 19%. Also, a recent PC World article mentioned a March 2011 survey by GetJar that indicates Android shows no signs of slowing down, with 40% of consumers responding that their next smart phone will be an Android phone, compared to just 16% who said their next phone would be an iPhone.
From a development perspective, Android is the most flexible platform. Developers can create apps using Apple, Windows, or Linux technology; Apple only gives you one option (guess which one?). The app development and submission process is also much more open for Android compared to Apple and other mobile platforms. Once you submit an app to the Android Marketplace, it is instantly available for users to download and install on Android devices. Apple, on the other hand, requires you to wait for approval, and rejects some apps based on concept, design, or functionality. This creates a certain quality standard for iPhone and iPad apps, but is frustrating for developers who can sometimes get caught in a black hole trying to get an app approved. The instant approval process for Android apps streamlines the process, and Google takes more of a laissez-faire approach in that it pulls apps that get a lot of complaints, but stays out of the way otherwise.
However, Android isn't perfect. The main disadvantage with Android is that you have so many devices to test, rather than just three for Apple (iPhone, iPad, and iPod). Inconsistencies across devices can create problems for your app's performance and reputation. On the flipside, making an app compatible with so many devices creates a larger potential user base. Android is also a bit behind Apple in the tablet space, though there are several new Android tablets coming out this year. Also, the Android platform is expanding into TVs, exercise equipment, and other electronics, so you need to stay current on all the latest devices.
So, where do you go from here? Android? iPhone? In short, the answer is both (and include a Windows Phone 7 and Blackberry app if resources allow). Android and iPhone are here to stay. While Apple got most of the attention in the early years of mobile apps, Android has proven it's a force to be reckoned with. The bottom line is, the more platforms your apps integrate with, the more brand awareness and revenue you can drive back to your business.
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