In 2016, the debate of which mobile OS is going to win the battle for market dominance rages on. This conversation is highly relevant to app developers and entrepreneurs. If you’re considering which platform to build for, or want to learn more about what differences there are in the mobile OS markets, read on for our deep dive into the subject and some actionable tips.

First, let’s give an overview of the key mobile operating systems out there.

Major Players

If mobile devices operating systems were engaged in a live performance, there would only be two primary players on the main stage: iOS and Android. Apple’s iOS is considered by some to be the premier operating system, while Android is thought of as a more customizable OS, and in many ways is the operating system “for the people.” In terms of sheer numbers, figures supplied by IDC show that Android dominates the smartphone market with a unbelievably dominant share of 82.8 percent. Easy decision then right? You must build for Android.

Not so fast.

If you are an app developer hoping to earn revenue from your app, these market size figures only tell part of the story.

Apple is very well represented in the so-called first world and it definitely has a strong urban following. Obviously Android also has a strong presence in these markets, but it has a much wider base in developing countries and with less affluent users. Both Android and iOS have quite devoted followings. One real difference that developers should be aware of between iPhone and Android users is that data shows that iPhone users are much more likely to pay for apps than Android users.


The Rest

Windows Mobile and Blackberry OS are still struggling along, attempting to gain any significant market share, but at this time, it just doesn’t look good. They simply are unlikely to be significant players in the mobile market dance in 2016 or beyond. In 2015, Windows Mobile only managed a 2.5% share of the smartphone market, and recent figures put that number at an abysmal 1.7%. Blackberry doesn’t even plan to build any more phones using its own OS (will use Android instead). Still, some developers who want to build for these manufacturers, or build for all the different mobile OS, are looking at cross platform tools and HTML5 as a way to ensure a presence on these phones without the cost of development for a product with very small market share.

Cross-platform development & HTML5

Cross-platform tools are a useful and cost-effective way of getting your app to market as quickly as possible and to develop for multiple platforms at the same time. Many operate on a single code base model, allowing for one code base to be deployed to multiple platforms. Xamarin (C#), Ionic (HTML5) and Sencha (Java and JS) are examples of popular cross-platform tools.

As mentioned, many cross-platform tools use a combination HTML and/or Javascript to create web apps that look and behave like mobile applications. Some even use “wrapper technology” like PhoneGap to give apps some native functionality.

Using most cross-platform tools or building web based hybrid apps is a method for web developers to build simple apps with a single code base. This can provide an consistent environment for applications to work across several mobile OS. However, the reality is that app users truly do prefer native apps. A native app developed for either iOS or Android (or even the other operating systems) gives the user a more targeted and satisfying experience. Native apps are seen as being easier to access on a phone, perform faster and more smoothly, and provide superior feedback and interaction when compared to web or hybrid apps.

7 Important Factors to Consider When Choosing a Target Mobile OS

1. Your objectives as a developer

Who are you developing for and what are you developing? These are the first questions a developer needs to answer before stepping into the very confusing world of competing operating systems. It sounds simple but considering which mobile OS you prefer and which type of technology you’re most comfortable using does make a big difference as you go through the development process. If you just hate iOS as a user, building an iOS app might prove too frustrating and annoying to make it worthwhile, and the frustration may bleed through into design and development decisions.

2. Target audience

Take into account the demographics and needs of your audience. Bankers, lawyers, and other professionals need different things from their apps as compared to teenagers who live on social media, are sending Snaps all day, or play the new Kardashian game.

So, are you targeting an audience that will gladly pay for an app or are they only interested in free apps? You need to examine potential growth and revenue models and your target demographics willingness to try your app or likelihood to pay. A great way to get to know your app’s target audience is through trying different methods of user research. Ultimately, which OS and device type your target demographic prefers should be a guiding decision point for which mobile OS to build for.

3. Your skill set

This probably goes without saying, but we’re still saying it. You must be very sure that you have sufficient skills to build your app, or that you have a team who can master — or are already experts of — the programming languages and environments you will be using to build your app. Programming is the core cost of any app, so one big decision to consider is whether you will do the development from scratch.

If you don’t, perhaps you can use an app development platform to augment your or your team’s skill set and help build your app.

Development platforms can offer several benefits, like a reduction in the overall cost and time it takes to finish an app. Some development platforms also give you the opportunity to develop cross-platform at the same time by using a single code base (as mentioned above), while Dropsource focuses on truly native design and performance, and therefore gives users the ability to build iOS or Android apps in a visual environment side by side and get compiled native source code for each app separately.

4. Fragmentation

iOS delivers content solely to the iPhone and the iPad, so it is relatively simple to ensure that your app works on all versions of hardware which use the operating system. That being said, screen sizes among iPhones and iPads can vary (e.g. iPhone 5 vs. iPhone 6s+, or, iPad pro vs iPad mini), and as new phones continue to come out and sizes change (grow mostly) you do need to take screen size into consideration.

By contrast, one major challenge in Android development is the huge amount of Android devices and OS versions that are on the market. This can cause a significant increase in development costs, or sacrifices in UX, because an app must be optimized for many different screen sizes and operating systems. This will also increase quality assurance costs when testing your app to make sure it is working properly on different devices. Therefore, an iOS app could possibly be “cheaper” and more standardized to develop due to the lower amount of resizing and testing costs.

5. Market Share and Demographics

Android dominates Apple in this regard. Android has the largest global market share and this market share is growing every year. The Android operating system is very strong in developing countries and low-income areas where Apple has almost no influence. Due to the higher price points and more exclusive branding, it can be expected that iOS users will typically have higher incomes, higher education levels, are more engaged and spend more per app. Obviously, these are generalizations and do not exactly define the markets, but are important for mobile developers and entrepreneurs to consider.

6. Revenue


Market share alone is not the only consideration when choosing which operating system you should focus your development on. iOS and Android differ vastly when one takes into account your ability to earn revenue from your app.

Mobile marketing company App Annie tracks mobile sales and their latest results will make most app developers stop to reconsider their choices over operating systems. In 2015, Google Play produced twice as many app downloads as the iOS App Store, but this volume does not mean higher earnings. Despite all those downloads, iOS now earns 75% higher trackable revenues than Google Play.

As a demographic, Apple users have been found to generally have more disposable income and so are more likely to spend on apps, which translates to higher revenues for app developers.

For every $1 in-app download revenue earned by iOS developers, their Android counterparts earn just $0.19, according to data compiled by Business Insider.

This trend also plays out in advertising. While Android users are more likely to check a notification, just last month, a report from major Facebook advertising firm Nanigans said that ads on Apple’s platform posted returns nearly 1800% higher than the same ad running on Android. In fact, putting money into Android netted advertisers a negative return on investment, to the tune of a 10% loss.

“Audiences cost more on iPhone, and the reason is that it’s worth it. Typically, we’re not looking to acquire one-time customers, we’re looking to invest over time…so we pay more up front for better long-term results.” — Dan Slagen, SVP at Nanigans

In terms of possible revenue streams, users can buy your app with a one-time fee, buy in-app purchases, subscribe to your app on a recurring basis, or you may decide to use advertising to pay for the app. In the latter case, Android would be the preferred choice since it provides many ways to create a viable advertising-paid application.

For Asia focused projects, Android dominates in both market share and revenue earning. Penetration in the world largest market, China, is growing very fast and currently 90% of smartphones being sold there are Android-powered. Even though Apple is trying to gain ground by opening up more retail locations across China, it will take quite some time, if it ever can, to truly battle Android for real market share here.

7. Security

Google’s platform has received a lot of criticism for the ease with which people can find and install unofficial apps. Android apps can seemingly more easily be pirated and the app files circulated and installed without needing to be rooted. This is one of the reasons why so many developers are creating ad-injected models for Android-based apps to ensure some revenue from their products. Apple, by comparison, requires validation before an app can be downloaded from the App Store and, so far, limited malware transmission and piracy on iOS apps.

According to F-secure, 75% of smartphone malware targets Android devices.

On a similar note, the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center has also warned users for various forms of malware attacks on Android operating systems of mobile devices. Just important to know what you’re in for in the Google Play Store and Android app market.

And The Verdict is…?


Phew! That was a deep dive. So what did we learn?

Developers have a lot to consider when planning to build an app and choosing an mobile OS. Simply put, a premium channel and brand such as Apple make iOS a most attractive option from a revenue perspective, but there are other reasons for choosing where to commit your development.

As we see it, for US based app projects, where earning revenue from app sales and in-app purchases is your top priority, developing for iOS is your best route.

That said, Android is the platform preferred by many developers for its high level of customization, and it is far and above the OS where you will get the most eyeballs on your app. Android is widely distributed and more people are likely to get to know your product due to the massive distribution of the user base.

For a globally-accessible app that you hope to reach the largest amount users possible, you should build for Android.

Still want to do more or reach the whole market? Well if you want to achieve full coverage of the market, and reach the full spectrum of users, the best solution is still to build your app on both platforms. We are glad to tell you that this is not as hard to achieve as you may think with a development platform like Dropsource, which gives you the ability to design iOS and Android apps side by side inside a web browser.

Build native apps like never before, and join our beta today.

Check out Dropsource for your next app development project. Our platform helps dev teams efficiently build & ship quality native apps by converting your team’s app designs into concise, extendable native source code.