All you need to know about developing apps for iOS and Android including tech advice for developers entering the App market

“There’s an app for that” is the historical tagline that, back in 2009, Apple used to introduce the mass market to the iPhone 3G and to the app based ecosystem. Since then, almost everyone has learned what an app is and how to discover new apps for their smartphones. In the meanwhile, apps have grown in number and in sales volume, establishing different tech models and market strategies. How many types of apps exist nowadays? How many mobile platforms support apps? How do they differ from one another, both from the user and the developer’s point of view?

Let’s try to give a quick look at it together and be sure to check out our FAQ Tech Advice for developers entering the App market down below.

The main difference is between platforms. Regardless of the fact that the app concept is quite similar on every platform, each one has its peculiarities and rules. To date, the most important app enabled platforms are Android (85% of the smartphone sales in 2014), Apple iOS (11%) and Microsoft Windows Phone (3%)[1].

The Apple Store: Rules, Restrictions and Exclusivity

Let’s start with Apple. They were the first company to bring the app model to success, through their legendary iPhone. Their devices are beautiful, and their software is simple, smooth and powerful. iPhone users trust Apple for the reliability of their platform and for keeping them safe from unwanted surprises. To achieve this, Apple created a strictly protected environment, both on its hardware and software. Device models are few in numbers, ensuring system stability and low fragmentation (a happy condition for developers and designers, to easily create beautiful screens).

Apps can be searched and downloaded exclusively from the App Store, the Apple proprietary and protected app marketplace, which is bundled in every iPhone and iPad. Developers have to submit their apps to Apple for review before being released on the store. Each app is tested to check its tech status and to ensure that a long list of rules have been respected by the developer. For example, developers are not allowed to use third party payment platforms (only Apple’s platform is permitted). References to Apple competitors are also strictly prohibited. Moreover, some app genres are completely forbidden, such as porn/sex-oriented and gambling content.

The Google Play Store: Community based, Open and Inclusive

Let’s move to Android. This mobile system developed by Google and several other partners is adopted by a large number of vendors and models. Devices vary from cheap to luxury mobile devices, each one with different sizes and capabilities. Samsung is the leader of the Android-running hardware world; Sony, LG, HTC and Motorola are some of the other well-known brands adopting Android. You can easily find an Android device to fit your needs, your pocket and your wallet.

The Android operating system is rich with features and it is far more customizable than Apple’s. Users, vendors and developers can configure, customize and extend the system to bend it to their needs. Moreover, apps can be downloaded from different sources. With Android, an app can be installed by downloading its setup package (an .APK file) from the Internet. However, just like iPhone owners, Android users also prefer to discover and to install new apps by using a marketplace.

There are many different marketplaces for the Android ecosystem. Almost any vendor offers a proprietary one (Samsung Apps, Amazon App Store, etc.), but the most widely adopted is Google Play Store. It is bundled in almost every Android device (Amazon is the only big name not including it), and a common Android user knows how to deal with it. Apps on the Google Play Store are not checked by Google before publishing: there’s no review process. Having no review process, however, does not mean that there are no rules: indeed, there are a lot of rules that need to be obeyed for publishing on the Google Play Store. Apps breaking them can be removed by Google staff with no warning. The Play Store’s rules are similar to the App Store’s, but in some case they are less restrictive.

As an example, third party payment platforms are permitted, but only under particular circumstances. Continuing with the Apple comparison, adult apps are also not allowed by Google, but the Android world knows some alternative or thematic marketplaces in which they are allowed or even the only genre admitted.

FAQ: Tech Advice for developers entering the App market

Can the same app be offered on Google Play and the App Store?

On the tech side, it is important to know that apps developed for Android cannot be installed on iOS, and vice versa. We are not talking about web, we are talking about native applications. Every platform has its own software development platform, with its own programming language. Do you want to see your app running both on Android and iPhone? Well, you need to develop it twice.

Is there a loophole or a way around this?

Maybe you have heard something about web-based apps, or about cross-platform development environments such as PhoneGap. Yes, that’s true: web technologies can be used to build cross-platform apps: you can develop your app’s contents with HTML5, which can be executed on every recent platform, and then package them as a native app. Most of the work is done with a cross-platform tech set (HTML, CSS and JavaScript), while just few minutes are needed on the native side (app packaging).

Moreover, you can use this strategy to wrap existing web sites, services and games, and distribute them as Android and iOS apps, with very little effort needed. This technique is called “web-wrapping.” Although it looks like an easy method, pay attention and use caution: web-wrapping really works only in a few situations. The user experience given by a sophisticated HTML5 based app, indeed, is not (yet?) comparable to the native one.

Users usually can’t clearly distinguish between HTML5 and native apps. Both have their pros and cons. Native apps integrate seamlessly with devices and adopt a platform-specific design. Make sure you integrate your app well, as Apple explicitly discourages web-wrapping apps and can reject them.

The point is that quality is king in the app world. Users are allowed to review apps and give public feedback about them in the marketplace. Negative reviews and a poor rating mean a drastic decrease in the install rate of the app. Satisfying users’ needs with a high quality level is the key to a successful app.

How to make money with an App

Revenues from mobile apps can be earned in three different ways. The first and oldest one is to charge for the download of the app. Marketplaces act as intermediaries. The user pays the marketplace using a credit card (or another supported payment method), and the marketplace lets them download and install the app. The Marketplace model is revenue share: both Apple and Google keep about 30% of the price of the app.

The second technique is offering the app for free, and earning with ads running inside the app. Both Apple and Google offer an ad network that can be easily integrated within native apps.

The third and most recently successful model is the so called “freemium”: you let the user download your app for free, and then you propose some in-app purchases that give the user digital goods or advantages inside the app. Most of the games adopt this strategy today: you can play for free, but if you want super-powers to quickly defeat your enemies, well, you need to buy some of those expensive magic gems.

In-app purchases can be single shots (give me 50 gems for 5$, please) or subscriptions (give me 50 gems for 5$, weekly). Apple and Google offer their SDK to quickly integrate their mobile platforms in apps. They both discourage third party payment platforms, but as said before, sometimes they are allowed, depending on the app. Just as with a download fee, they keep about 30% of what is paid for by users. In-app purchases are quickly growing: they account for about 80% of the App Store revenues.

Which app store brings in more money?

Although Android is the king of device sales, most of the app revenues are still coming from the Apple world. iPhone users are more used to paying for an app, and they are willing to do so; Android users, instead, are more reluctant, and most of them have no credit card registered in the Play Store (Google does not require it at registration time, while Apple does).

Carrier billing: the El Dorado of Android app developers?

The good news is that Android users are day by day getting more used to paying for content. Most of them are “casual users”, meaning they choose an Android device just because they want a cheap but effective smartphone. Indeed, due to the success of some freemium apps and games, those users learnt how to download from the Play Store and they started to think that there is some digital content which it is worth paying for. Since it is not required for Play Store users to enter a credit card at registration time, carrier billing represents a huge opportunity. Google itself recognized this as a big chance and started offering carrier billing as an alternative to the credit card in the Play Store, but at the moment few carriers are supported.

Discover more on how to monetize on mobile with Carrier billing!