Do app ports from iOS guarantee Androids future in second place

first_imgThere is a constant battle in the mobile phone space between iOS and Android. With this comes any number of buyers who want to know that their device is somehow the best or the most popular. While Android OS has surpassed Apple’s iOS in terms of market share, a couple of recent releases on Android have left me wondering whether or not device penetration is truly relevant. Recently several iOS apps have been released to Android, and while most people are celebrating, I have found myself seriously questioning what the future of apps on Android will look like if many of the most popular apps are just ports from iOS.Your user experience or mine?The issue, as I see it, comes down to the developers. Take the incredibly popular magazine-style reading app, Zite. Zite is a terrific sort of RSS replacement with a killer UI. You basically build a magazine based on the content you are interested in, and you can then read in a truly pleasing fashion. The app itself is well designed and very functional… on iOS. Zite was built with Apple’s user experience in mind, and because it was on iOS first that makes perfect sense.However, recently Zite decided to release their app to the Google Play Store for Android devices of every shape and size. When you try to use the app on your Android device the user experience is really awkward. In a world of menu keys and long presses, Zite feels incredibly out of place. Accessing the settings for the app happens by swiping across the app until you get to the settings page, instead of behind a menu key that allows me to access the settings anywhere. The app wasn’t optimized for the Android user experience at all — the developers just took the iOS user experience and copied that into Android.Zite is far from the only culprit here, Temple Run comes to mind as well. The massive following that was gained in under 24 hours for Instagram on Android was clearly a sign that there were users interested in the service. The photo-centric social network has had plans to release for Android for some time now, and originally I had hoped that the app was being optimized for the Android experience. I was deeply disappointed to find much of the same iPhone conventions remained on the Android version. Not only does the app have the same menu-less experience as Zite, but when you navigate through the app you soon find back buttons in the top left corner of the app to take you back to the previous screen. This is a particular pet peeve of mine, considering that every Android device on the planet has a very functional back button, one specifically for these tasks. Instead of taking the Instagram experience and optimizing it for Android, the developers decided that the iOS design was good enough.Managing multiple user experiences across any number of devices is no simple task, and I understand that. After all, it’s tough enough that these developers were already developing for the iPhone and the iPad, where the app needs to be optimized for the different screen sizes and resolutions. For smaller apps or smaller companies, I could find some of this acceptable. Instagram however gained over a million users overnight by moving to Android, the least they could do is make the experience function within the capabilities of the OS they are porting to. In fact, had they optimized for Android and used the fragments system, the app would have automatically scaled for Android tablets. It could have been a win for everyone, but instead it sends a clear message that the Android user experience doesn’t really matter, as long as you have something those users want.What’s next for Android?Instagram showed iOS developers that, if your app is popular, you can get a ton of new users very quickly. That is a really great thing on one hand, and a potentially bad thing on another. Worst possible lessons from this would be that you can build yourself a solid brand on iOS and then treat Android as an afterthought. Tons of market research has gone into which platform is more profitable and which OS will get you the most money when you release a concept. With the ability to choose between a paid app, an ad-supported one, or an in-purchase strategy, you can take any app with a good idea and make money on either platform. The important thing is the brand.Most people aren’t even aware that Instagram is a social network. If you ask ten random people that have the app installed right now, more than half of them will tell you it is for putting nice photo effects on pictures, and if you request it, the app will auto-post to Twitter and Facebook. Instagram proper, the actual social network, is a swarm of users engaging in the quest to have the most popular photo. Three hours after being an Instagram user, I received half a dozen requests asking me to like photos taken by others. The brand has been established, and now all that matters in acquiring users.If this becomes a trend, the Android user experience will become the one word that gets misused time and time again: fragmented. Half of the apps on your phone will respect that you have a back button, while the other half will ignore it entirely. Many companies develop apps for Android first, because it is easier to get the app to the people and test it out, and often less expensive than it is for iOS. When the decision comes down to develop the user experience for the app, will the devs look at how Android apps have been developed in the past, or will they be forced to listen to the user who points at his phone and says “make it work like Zite”?This inevitably leads to the question, where is Google in all of this? My social networks were filled yesterday with Googlers celebrating the release of Instagram. Indeed, it was an exciting thing for a huge mass of Android user to have access to this social network, but it can’t stop there. How have Android developer advocates at Google not reached out to Instagram and offered some words of encouragement when it comes to optimizing for this huge, established ecosystem? This indicates that they would rather just have the apps that their users want, regardless of whether or not the experience is in line with the OS they have been molding for the last few years.Final ThoughtsIn the end, the only people who can do anything about this are the developers. If Google has failed to offer a compelling reason to look at the Android user experience, what is the point in optimizing for it? The Instagram brand has plowed onto Android with zero signs of slowing down. As long as it is acceptable for brands that have become successful on iOS to move to Android without a thought toward the user experience, Android will always be in second place, regardless of how many more devices have been put in the hands of users.last_img read more