iOS (iPhone, iPod Touch, iPad) vs Android: (Part 2: The App Stores)

The big deal with smart phones these days is the concept of an App.  An app is a computer program written specifically to run on a mobile operating system like iOS or Android.  An app has the goal of giving an end-user an experience that is custom designed for the smaller screen size and form factor of a mobile device.  As a starting point, one might consider a website like  If you visit using a mobile web browser that site will look very nice, but will be extremely difficult to read as all the text will be tiny.  Mobile web browsers like Mobile Safari and Mobile Chrome have the ability to “pinch to zoom” so a user can zoom in and read the site easily.  This is extra work on the user’s part and it still will not deliver a polished end-user experience for Etrade.  In light of this, Etrade has an app available that takes their online banking and investment products and delivers them to the mobile screen in a well thought out way specifically designed for a device of that size.  Beyond this the mobile application space has gotten the creative juices of software developers flowing and new types of software utilities have been invented as a result of these mobile devices and their app stores.
The app store model is a mystery to most.  This is how it works.  A software developer who does not work for Apple or Google writes a mobile application.  They then have to choose how to distribute this application.  Apple started the App Store craze 3 years ago by allowing developers to submit their applications to Apple’s App Store.  Apple would handle all of the credit card processing and delivery of the application to the mobile devices and simply send a check to the developer each month.  In return, Apple takes 30% of each sale leaving the developer with 70%.  So if I have a 99 cent app, I get 70 cents each time one sells.  When you consider the cost of processing credit cards, delivering software electronically, and all the other technical details that go into this process it is really a great deal for developers.  At the same time, it is a great deal for Apple as they already had the infrastructure in place for sales with their itunes music store.  Now Apple can take existing resources and have developers fill up the App Store with thousands of applications for consumers to choose from.  Apple also lets a developer release free apps in which Apple takes 30% of nothing, which is nothing.  There is a price to pay for a developer to play on the App Store.  Apple charges $99 per year which gives the developer the right to release as many apps as they would like on the App Store.  This fee also comes with a few technical support credits as an added bonus in case a developer has any problems they need help solving.  About 1.5 years later, Google followed suit with their own app store call the Android Marketplace which follows the same 70/30 model Apple uses for developers.
So which app store is better?  Well that is a tricky question.  Generally speaking Apple tends to be consumer oriented while Google tends to be developer oriented.  Both have their pros and cons.  Apple has a strict app approval process that takes about a week from the time the developer submits an application to the time it is potentially visible on the App Store.  During this process an app is reviewed for content, crashes, and anything else Apple deems to be bad for them or their customers.  Only after this process is an app allowed on the store.  I have never personally had a problem with any of my apps getting approved, but it is well documented that some developers have spent countless hours creating amazing apps only to have Apple reject them for various reasons.  These reasons could be as specific as the app having content that Apple does not want on their store, or that it directly competes with an Apple product, but it could also be ambiguous as Apple reserves the right to reject an app for whatever reason they want.  To play on Apple’s App Store as a developer, you have to play by their rules.  This benefits the consumer by reducing the number of low quality, malicious, and bug laden apps that make it onto the App Store.
Google on the other hand has no review process.  A developer can submit an app and within 5 minutes it is on the Android Marketplace.  These apps can be malicious in nature, low quality, or may be high quality applications deserving of this treatment.  This model benefits the developer, but potentially hurts the consumer.  Let me flip the problem upside down now by sharing an experience I had.  I once released an app on Apple’s App Store and the app had a serious bug that Apple did not find during their review process.  This bug basically made the app unusable by the end-user if they were doing a specific thing.  A user brought the bug to my attention, I promptly fixed it, and uploaded the updated app for Apple’s review.  A week later the update went live.  My users had to wait a week for a simple bug fix to be released.  I had a similar experience on the Android Marketplace where a user brought a bug to my attention.  I was able to fix the bug and immediately release the update which was immediately available to the end user.  They were very satisfied with the quick turn around time.  While I’m sure my Apple App Store end users were less amused by the bug during the week they had to wait.
So which app store is better?  I guess I believe some hybrid of the two would be ideal.  As a developer who has no intent on releasing malicious or low quality applications I prefer the Android Marketplace model.  As a consumer who uses many application on my mobile devices, I prefer Apple’s App Store model which gives me more confidence in the apps I download.  I personally wish that Apple had a trust program in place where a developer can agree to terms of not writing malicious code etc… at the penalty of having their rights on the app store removed and earned revenue returned.  This would be in exchange for the right to immediately publish apps to the App Store.  Similarly, I think Google should crack down on what they allow onto their Android Marketplace.
Performance indicates that Apple’s App Store is the winner, but I think both models need some work.  Stay tuned for next week’s blog about the fragmentation in the Android Marketplace that causes additional concerns for the end user.
Dr. Michael Litman, PhD
President & CEO

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