It’s no mystery that despite having less reach than Android, iOS is preferred by developers who put bread on the table by coding apps. The reason? Well, there are many reasons for that, but there is one crucial aspect where Android fares much worse than iOS: fragmentation.
Device fragmentation is both good and bad, depending on how you look at it. If you’re Google, fragmentation is good because it means you get to put your OS on a plethora of devices big and small, cheap or pricey, and in countries where Apple has yet to sell its expensive iPhone and iPad. But if you’re a developer or a regular user, fragmentation is not so good.
For developers, fragmentation means testing your app on multiple devices for compatibility. Needless to say, not even the most accomplished coder can own every type of Android handset. The hurdles range from screen size and sensors to different input and affordability. On the iOS side, devs only have to deal with four different configurations. Also, iOS customers tend to spend more on the apps they download, bringing in profits for developers. On Android, the chances of having people download your $2 app are much slimmer than on iOS.
Even end users have to suffer from fragmentation because it prevents Google from pushing out important security updates for every type of device in a timely fashion. Not that Apple is rolling them out much faster, but because it only has to deal with a handful of different devices and screen sizes made specifically for iOS (and which it knows like the back of its hand), the process is much smoother. This works in the third-party developer’s advantage too. The less particularities to take into account, the faster you can get your app in the hands of the users. On the downside, Apple charges $99 annually to let you do business in the App Store.
The image above reflects the sheer amount of Android phones and tablets in the wild as of August 2014. Chances are we’re now way past this number, but according to the data obtained last year by OpenSignal, there are roughly 19,000 “distinct” Android devices currently out there. To give you an idea as to how rapidly the entropy spreads, in 2012 that number was four-to-five times smaller – just 4,000 different Android devices.
The chart above is part of a much bigger interactive infographic found over at OpenSignal.com. I encourage you to take the trip there for a broader picture of the mobile landscape today.