This Vicious Job Cycle Explains Why Startups Don't Use Android Even Though It's 80% Of The Market (AAPL, GOOG)

Jim Edwards

Alessandro Crugnola, a software developer who works for Aviary, the photo editing app, has written a thoughtful essay on why it is so hard to hire people who want to work on mobile apps for Android phones and devices.

There are lots of people who develop for the competing system, Apple's iOS. In fact iOS development experience is one of the standard resume checkoffs for working in tech.

But, Crugnola says, "I hear this every day. Your New York based company is desperately looking for an Android developer, and it’s damn hard to find one."

No one wants to work on Android, apparently.

In his answer to that question Crugnola has explained one of the strangest but most prevalent prejudices in the mobile tech industry: Companies can't be bothered with Android even though the vast majority of the world's mobile population is on Android, and even though Google provides Android to manufacturers free of charge.

About 80% or more of everyone who owns a smartphone is carrying an Android device. Apple's iPhones only account for 12% of phones globally, according to IDC. Yet companies routinely develop for iOS first, and then only sometimes do they produce a copy for Android a bit later. Some major apps are not on Android yet, like the payments app Venmo and Instagram's video app Hyperlapse.

Crugnola's explanation for this is interesting because he ignores the usual explanation for the anti-Android phenomenon among app developers. That explanation is twofold:

  1. Apple devices are more expensive than Android devices, which attracts richer customers, and those customers are more lucrative for developers in terms of download payments, in-app purchases and as mobile app advertising targets.
  2. iOS is easier to develop for, because 90%+ of Apple's users have updated their phones to the latest version. On Android, there are multiple versions on multiple phones, which means developers have to make multiple versions of their app in order to ensure that users can actually get it to work. (The industry term for this problem is "Android fragmentation.")

While those two explanations are essentially true (Android, unfortunately, is for poor people) Crugnola goes a step further. He notes that because companies don't take Android development seriously, it creates a self-fulfilling vicious cycle in which developers choose not to develop for Android.

The cycle begins because companies develop for iOS first, and then if the app is successful they make a version for Android. The Android version is always the afterthought, the copied-across version of the iOS app — and thus it's never quite as good as if it had been developed for Android initially.

This skews the job market in app development toward iOS and away from Android, Crugnola argues:

Android developers don’t find it very attractive to join a company where Android will be always the 2nd choice. That’s very frustrating.

And as for developers who are approaching the mobile market for the first time, which platform do you think they’ll choose? They see all of your apps being introduced on iOS first, they see that the Android version is not as good as the iOS one, and they see you complaining about the Android market.

The problem is further compounded because tech startups — or the really famous ones, at least — tend to be in California or maybe New York. In those markets, Apple has about a 50% share of users. But the US is actually an outlier for Apple. Globally, most people — that 80% — are on Android. In some countries (like Spain and Brazil), iPhone barely exists.

So developers — as Crugnola notes — live in a world where "everyone" seems to be on iPhone, and everyone in their industry wants to develop for iOS.

In reality, only a wealthy sliver of the global market uses iOS.

Crugnola has some solutions to this problem, such as offering signing bonuses to Android developers. But unfortunately it's hard to see the situation changing until a company figures out a lucrative business model that is Android-first, which would make other companies copy the strategy.

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