Will you make it for Android?

The short answer is “No!”, but let me explain why. Let’s start with the basics. What is Android and why are those devices so much cheaper than Apple? The heart of any computer-based device is software called the operating system. It’s a manager that controls the device from powering on through switching between the various programs. The single greatest cost item for any electronic device is software, because it cannot, at least so far, be generated automatically by machines like hardware can.

The Android operating system was created by Google to use in the phone they built to compete with the Apple iPhone. It was made open source. What that means in sewing terms is that they created a designer dress, but made the complete pattern available to anyone, for free. They also released the full set of tools used to create Android software. That allowed companies like Samsung to create phones and tablets where the greatest cost item, software, was free. Soon there were dozens of companies making their own smart phones and tablets, with each of them creating their own customized version of Android. Competition quickly heated up and it became a race to have the absolute lowest priced devices on the market.

For the average non-technical person, all smart phones and tablets seem pretty much the same. That means the only criterion that is used to evaluate them comes down to price, and this has allowed Android to become the dominant operating system used on the devices with the largest market share. On the surface that would seem to be an obvious reason for software developers to develop for Android first and maybe exclusively. Why do they almost all develop for Apple iOS first, or like us, exclusively?

Software development is labor intensive, even though the labor is mental rather than physical. Almost all software is written for money, either from the sale of the software or advertising embedded in it. Only a few weeks after our first app was released we were at Janome Institute. When informed about our app, one dealer asked if we could “bump” phones. Bump? At the time it was possible with Android to transfer software, paid or unpaid, to someone else’s phone just by bumping them together. The prospect of selling your software once, then having hundreds of copies distributed for free, is not very appealing to any developer. By contrast, Apple has a very strong system in place to ensure that apps on iOS are close to impossible to copy. Developers surrender 30% of the sale price of their app for this, but it does ensure that you will get paid for each one sold.

Because of the open source aspect of Android, it’s easy for anyone with malicious intent to see exactly how it works, and how to bypass security. This allows for virus and other malware to be injected into devices that use it, in some cases just by being nearby the source of infection. It’s also easy for shady developers to create apps that are very similar to other apps, with confusing naming. This allows them to have cheaper versions of popular apps that contain embedded software to extract customer information and send it to them for nefarious use. By contrast Apple is vigilant about user privacy and vets every app for such practices before allowing it in the store. The process is not infallible, and there have been exceptions, but they are quickly removed when discovered. No serious developer wants to risk his or her reputation by putting dodgy software in the App Store. Google has only recently started paying attention to this, as documented in this story.

For independent developers like us, the equipment budget is not very big. To develop for iOS you need a Mac computer. Period. Android also has a low equipment overhead, so they are equal in terms of cost. The problem comes with which version of Android you are developing for. For example, Amazon’s Fire devices all use their own custom version of Android, so you need to own the device you are developing for. Every Android phone and tablet manufacturer also has their own customized version of Android, and they don’t always keep it updated to the latest Google version. Difference in screen sizes and device capabilities mean that a developer has to have even more devices for testing. There may be some inherent risk in just buying Android devices for testing, as discussed here. When developing for iOS I need to only decide which version I want to support and write for it. It’s very easy to make sure my apps work correctly on all the different devices.

Finally there is the learning curve. I have been building iOS apps for 7 years, and have spent hundreds of hours, as well as numerous conferences, building my skill set. Going to Android would mean starting over from scratch. Given my age and probable lifespan, it’s something I suppose I could do, but there is no motivation to do so. Supporting only Apple devices does limit our market, but Janome seems to be in agreement with our decision, since they also are Apple only on tablets.

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