Apple—and America—have lost the mobile platform wars

New research and other factors suggest Google's Android—and China—are extending their domination of mobile development

Apple—and America—have lost the mobile platform wars
Credit: wikimedia

It may be about time to finally declare a winner in the long and sometimes bitter battle for mobile dominance between Apple’s iOS and Google’s Android. According to a recent survey of thousands of developers around the world, Android is increasing its lead for developer mindshare, eroding the long-standing maxim of creating apps for “iPhone first.”

Android sets a record

In Developer Economics: State of the Developer Nation Q3 2016, released last week, VisionMobile reports Android now has a whopping 79 percent "mindshare" among mobile developers, the highest for any platform the company has measured since it began its quarterly surveys back in 2010. The record comes as the mindshare for iOS has consistently tracked at 51 percent to 55 percent since 2013 (although that figure rises to 61 percent for professional developers). 

More important, perhaps, almost half (47 percent) of professional developers now consider Android their primary platform, up seven points in just six months. Apple, meanwhile, is going in the opposite direction. The number of mobile developers who consider iOS their primary platform dropped eight points, from 39 percent to 31 percent. 

In some sense, this dramatic leap seems inevitable. Android has long outsold iOS by a wide margin, but many developers clung to iOS because of its early dominance and wealthier installed base that led to greater familiarity, more app downloads and greater revenue opportunities. But the ever-growing disparity in sheer numbers of users seems to finally have caught up with the developer community. Android’s ascendance appears due both to many developers changing their allegiance and to large numbers of new, professional, Android developers entering the field to join what had been an area dominated by hobbyists (52 percent of whom favor Android as a platform).

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Another factor, according to the report’s authors, is the changing nature of app monetization. As the mobile market matures, the trend is away from direct monetization through paid downloads, in-app purchases and advertising toward apps that support wider business goals. In that environment, Android’s vastly larger market share is increasingly difficult to ignore.

Geography as destiny

This dramatic change isn’t always visible from the U.S. perspective. Mobile platforms, like the future, are not evenly distributed. The survey showed a “strong bias toward Android in the East and a slight bias toward iOS in the West.” Specifically, iOS holds a one-point lead in the U.S., and the two platforms are running even in Western Europe.

But in regions such as Africa, the Middle East, South Asia and South America, Android enjoys a huge 20-point lead. Apple’s efforts to court developers in China has had some success, the report concludes. iOS is the top choice of 17 percent of Chinese mobile developers, which is higher than the platform’s market share in the country.

China's ascendant

The Chinese market is particularly important, and not just because of its vast size and even bigger growth potential. Several factors increasingly point to the rise of mobile innovation in China outstripping its Silicon Valley competition.

On top of San Francisco ride-sharing giant Uber losing its battle for the Chinese market to Didi Chxing, The New York Times last week declared that China, Not Silicon Valley, Is Cutting Edge in Mobile Tech.The evidence for that is still largely anecdotal, but the long-term trend seems difficult to dispute.

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