It is a simple to state strategic question but with a great number of impactful consequences especially in the early life of a product. You get it wrong and your product might not even see the daylight, or even if it does it might not live long enough in the hands of the users.
Why is this decision so crucial?
To understand why it is so, let’s first ask a few basic questions.
- Who are your users?
- Do they use smartphones and could the need that your product idea addresses be solved by a smartphone app?
If the answer to the above questions is “we don’t know” and “not necessarily”, respectively – stop! You need to go back and first do some serious user research and validate your product assumptions first and to get the basic groundwork done for the user experience of your upcoming app.
On the other hand, if the answer to the above questions are “Yes we have a good idea of our users based on the several tons of hours of talking to our users” and “yes, a smartphone app could be a great solution to the problem we are trying to solve” – then go ahead to read further.
Another question that is specially relevant for startups launching their product for the first time is – why first a native app? Several reasonably good hybrid app development frameworks exist that would spit out an Android and an iOS app through a common codebase. In addition, a hybrid app could be significantly cost effective.
As a result, the product team or the founders must answer this question with thoroughness as to why a native app is the best way forward. Some scenarios in which it makes sense to build a native app are:
- Majority of your users are either iOS or Android device users,
- You already have an hybrid app for your product up and successfully running and you want to build a native app to significantly improve the user experience and performance,
- Specific security issues that could only be addressed by a native framework.
If both the sets of questions above have been answered positively, then this article is for you.
If we agree that your users are smartphone-rs and that they would very much appreciate a native app working solution on their smartphones for the problem your product idea is addressing, then as a product leader (a co-founder of a startup or a product person at a company) one could use the basic, yet significantly consequential, metrics to work out your decision tree and compute a reliable outcome. Let us present those in the following.
Basic rules of thumb
Firstly, we should recognize that in almost all successful businesses today, it is not a choice between either an iOS or an Android app (as if one has to only choose one out of the two) but rather which platform to use first to reach your users effectively. The order of mobile platforms for app development is what matters, as every significant business will have to eventually build their services on both the platforms to cater to all possible users.
What mobile platform is the majority of early users on
This is a no brainer but could be extremely fundamental in deciding which mobile platform to build your app on. If the majority of early target users are on iOS or on Android, then by default it would make a lot of sense to build your app on that platform first and later expand to the other platform. This core data point is not only helpful in deciding whether one needs native app or not but in which order of platforms the native app could be built.
Positioning of the product
If your target users are more evenly divided, then one reason to decide for an iOS or the Android app for your product could be the understanding of how your product is positioned towards the users. Positioning could be broadly (but not encompassingly) classified into the following categories:
- For medium income earners,
- For low and all income earners.
It is no secret that iOS is home to several high end premium apps/services. And if your product’s positioning is premium then it makes a lot of sense to start first with the iOS app development for your product to reach out to premium customers. Similarly, if your app is positioned for all income earners, example of which is an e-commerce service then the decision to first go for an Android app first could be a well founded one in order to reach as many customers as possible.
For early stage startups, getting speed and cost of getting the product into the hands of the customers is super important. iOS apps tend to be more expensive but significantly faster to develop. Therefore for a startup that is tight on deadlines, it might make sense to consider going first for the iOS app in order to fail fast and get feedback from users.
Some intricate technicalities
Let us briefly discuss some pros and cons of iOS and Android app development. Most of it might appear to be common knowledge but the trick is how to use this knowledge to effectively make a decision for your product strategy that leads to a success.
|Higher margins – As already highlighted, the Apple users tend to come from higher income groups and do not mind spending money for quality. In addition, most iOS users are located in western, more developed, and richer countries.||Higher development costs – The iOS engineers are usually more expensive than Android engineers. Moreover, Xcode can only be used on Macs resulting in higher device costs.|
|Cross device simplicity – Almost all Apple devices use the same version of the iOS and as a result the software engineers do not have to deal with a variety of different device configurations and versions of softwares.||At Apple’s mercy – Apple controls the publishing of all the apps on the App store. And for any reason if they don’t like your app, you will have no option but to comply with their rules if they will still give you a chance.|
|Faster code development – Xcode, the development framework is easier for debugging than any other Android framework. This could significantly affect the speed of development and maintenance of code later on.||Closed source platform – Founders and product managers of the app/service may find a closed source system to be restrictive in terms of innovation and customizing user experience.|
|Established and accepted design features – Well established and stable user experience (UX) design guidelines exist, and developers don’t have to invent to solve already solved problems. This results in a faster development cycle and speedier iterations.|
|Open source frameworks – Android frameworks provide access to an open source development platform that is open to much higher degrees of freedom to customize features by the developers.||Coding costs – Android app development will require customization for different screen sizes, resolutions, and aspect ratios that have to work the way they are supposed to after every update.|
|Easy to start – Easy design templates make it easier for the developers to start coding basic features.||Testing costs – The same reasons driving the coding costs also drive up the testing costs as the code needs to be tested on so many different devices and increases time to deployment significantly.|
|Access to a variety of devices – Android frameworks make it possible to access an extensive number of different devices (different hardware) that can run a single responsive app.|
|Fast release – After the app is developed and submitted for publishing, it only takes a few hours before users can download and enjoy your app.|
De-risking your decision tree
Say you have decided to either go first for an iOS app or an Android app and as we have seen that it will most likely have deep impactful consequences, how do you then de-risk this decision?
Well, in this case de-risking means being able to pivot quickly and without killing the project from the older strategy to a newer one. The following two ways could help de-risk the decision.
- Clearly the best way to de-risk the decision is to go for an hybrid app that lets you launch on iOS and Android to acquire and retain your initial users and then go native by incorporating the initial user feedback gained through the hybrid app.
- If you have to go native and if you can go for iOS, then it could be a less riskier way to land your product into your users hand fast. Note that the iOS development is usually costlier, but it can be upto 40% faster, therefore this would particularly be better suited for startups as for them getting feedback from their customers faster is more important than anything.
The decision to create an iOS or an Android app depends on your target market and several factors related to your project that must be carefully considered by the product leaders or founders before making the decision. What is important is that even though details of each project are unique to itself, the broad rules that we have presented could be used to make a sound first analysis in effectively building your decision tree.
As a rule of thumb, and by no means it is applicable in all situations, if one wants to launch an app as a MVP with tight deadlines, the iOS app may be the way to go. However, in case you have positioned your product for the middle and all income earners then launching an Android app could be a reasonable option vs the iOS app.
These are the kind of questions we at Makeen help resolve for a variety of our clients in order to help them build and bring their products to their users. We have helped our customers identify potential use cases and then decide to go for either an iOS or an Android app based on the requirements. If you would like to bring your idea in the hands of your users, come and talk to us to know your next steps and get your product into the hands of your users fast.