Software, Hardware, Silverware

Defending iOS With a Cheaper iPhone

Benedict Evans:

If total Android engagement moves decisively above iOS, the fact that iOS will remain big will be beside the point – it will move from first to first-equal and then perhaps second place on the roadmap. And given the sales trajectories, that could start to happen in 2014. If you have 5-6x the users and a quarter of the engagement, you’re still a more attractive market.

This is a major strategic threat for Apple. A key selling point for the iPhone (though not the only one) is that the best apps are on iPhone and are on iPhone first. If that does change then the virtuous circle of ‘best apps therefore best users therefore best apps’ will start to unwind and the wide array of Android devices at every price point will be much more likely to erode the iPhone base. Part of the reason for spending $600 on an iPhone instead of $300 on an Android is the apps – that cannot be allowed to change.

The key word is “if”. If the total value of Android customers can supercede iOS, then most developers will move to Android-first (and then Android-only) development. That’s a big “if”. There are other factors Evans doesn’t mentions.

Fragmentation. Not only do apps have to support a wide range of devices, to be successful they have to support a wide range of OSes on a wide range of devices. And multiple app stores.

Piracy. The piracy situation on iOS is bad, but Android is much, much worse. In many cases, all it takes is a Google search to find some one peddling your app for free on a forum. With Google staying firm on the side of not policing the Google Play Store, there’s a good chance copycats will clutter search results for people trying to buy your app.

Expectations. Android phones are cheap, with few exceptions. People who buy them are getting them because they are cheap. That sets the expectation for the user that apps are going to be cheap. Do you think 1Password could ever be successful with an $18 app on Android? I don’t.

Consider desktops. OS X apps are far better than what’s available for Windows. There are more Windows apps, and there are more Windows users (at least 10x more), but all of the truly great apps are on OS X, and most of them are OS X-only. I should know, I spent many years frustratedly stuck on Windows.

Developers (with the exception of enterprise developers) make more money on OS X. Users who are willing to pay for the best computers in the world are also willing to pay for really high quality apps. Therefore, the great apps are built for OS X. If it continues to be that way on the desktop, why should it be any different on mobile?