Open Source is not a Feature!

On April 25, 2010, in Marketing, Mobile Business, by Steffen Itterheim

I stumbled across this AppBoy Blog Post about Android and its Market. And it reminded me of what i think when i hear people swearing by the Android: the Android is not going to rule the world. Period.

The reasons are not many but they are crucial. First, Open Source is not a Feature! I hear that very often. “Yeah but Android is Open Source, you can’t compete with that!”. Uh-huh. As a matter of fact, i do not want to compete with Open Source if that means low-quality crap. There is no quality control on the Android Market. For some this spells freedom of choice and what not. And yes, Apple has made some decisions to pull apps from the App Store that a lot of people didn’t like. But let’s not forget that 99% of iPhone OS users just don’t care. There’s still enough diversity, and it’s not like Apple has pulled the Facebook App, Twitterific, Doodle Jump or Angry Birds. Apps that people really use and like. Keep in mind that whenever Apple decides to pull an App, recently that was because of mature content while allowing a big player in that market to keep his Apps online, people talk about that because (a) they like to get upset and (b) the blogosphere and news outlets need something to talk about. In the end it’s just hot air.

Let’s get back to Android though. So it’s open source. What does that even mean? The OS itself is open source. Great for the companies who build their own devices on that software. Bad for the consumer: you still have the same problem all mobile phones have. It’s like switching from Nokia and it’s hundreds of different devices united by the Ovi Store to Android, with its hundred and more and more diverging devices and a united App Store. Where does that lead us? A huge pile of free choice no one really wants if you so will. For developers it gets increasingly harder to develop Apps that run on all Android devices and what’s more, even if you manage to support 99% of all devices right now, tomorrow there will be a new device coming out that won’t run your app. As an independent developer this is hell. You have no way of telling whether supporting a specific line of Android devices will get you a significant sales boost. So how do you calculate how much time you’ll spend on each? It’s pure guesswork. I pity Android developers.

The iPhone market itself is hard but there’s one thing you can and should put all your efforts in: Marketing. You develop for one device (well, ok make that 3) while in the meantime you figure out which websites to target, what to blog, which communities to join, where to apply for App reviews, what Press Releases to send out, etc. The code is already done, Marketing your App is the hard part. It’s the same with the Android, except that the code part with its diverging devices is just as hard to do. And it’s just not fun adapting the same app to different devices. It’s one of the things i wouldn’t mind not doing.

Most of the outspoken people who choose Android choose it because they don’t like Apple (fair enough), or they don’t like closed ecosystems and enjoy (really?) everything that has the label “Open Source” attached to it. However, they’re a minority on the Android market. Most Android users just got what they needed: a working mobile phone. They have no idea, and no clue and don’t care about Open Source. For them, the label “Open Source” has no meaning.

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2 Responses to “Open Source is not a Feature!”

  1. Cynewulf says:

    Wow. I came here looking for some useful information about Cocos2D Android (since you tagged it) and ended up looking at a long, rambling rant about how bad the Android platform is for developers.

    Putting aside the bias towards Apple products you clearly have, the whole idea of a common SDK is that it mitigates the issues you describe, even if it doesn’t eliminate them entirely.

    Your fears do have some substance of course, there are compatability issues between various different versions of the operating system versions and various different phones but the iPhones are absolutely no different in this regard.

    Ultimately, I can develop just about any Android application I please with the sure knowledge that it will actually be published on the marketplace. This is the power of an uncensored and unfettered marketplace.

    I know this is a scary concept to some. Don’t worry though, you stay safely cradled in Apple’s arms. They’ll love you for it.

    • Name one Android app that wouldn’t be approved on iOS devices and is truly a must-have app for Android users.

      Right now it seems the open part of the Android marketplace gives it lots more crap than the App Store, plus the occasional app compromising security or not working at all or as advertised. Most other apps do adhere exactly to Apple’s guidelines. That’s actually not surprising if you consider that they’re either cross-platform developments, or were ported from the App Store once they’ve proven to be successful. In that sense, Android marketplace is a second hand market and as a consequence the Apple guidelines are sort of in effect there as well.

      It also can’t hurt to check out the terrible update policy of Android device makers and the technical problems even wildly successful games like Angry Birds had on a variety of Android devices. And how difficult it is for developers to make a buck on the Android marketplace alone. From a developer’s point of view, there’s really not much going for Android other than “hey cool it’s open source!”. That’s what this rant was about.