Android is a bigger ecosystem but takes more work

Yes – I read Daring Fireball and tend to agree with Gruber most of the time – because we share the same ideology on many things.  When Gruber talks about the whole Android vs Apple war I tend to carry a different opinion in that helping to build a startup that has huge aspirations, is very big on mobile and is working on hard markets –  we have no choice but to support Android. The idea that we would or could only develop for iOS would be suicide given how but the Android market is.

We did go iOS first cause it was easier, is better for video and we had a rockstar iOS dev in our midst. I don’t think our experiences are the same as every developer in the ecosystem choice because we are working in video and I do think we have issues that are harder than what most app developers have. Our experiences map pretty closely to what the BBC is experiencing so when Gruber linked to this BBC post – all I could do was nod my head in total agreement.

I can’t get into a lot of the details since as a startup we have to keep some things secret. We are the leader in our space and we have learned everything through trial and error – the school of hard knocks.

The bottom line is the Android ecosystem did not ship with any across the board way to do secure, streaming video. Apple did. End of story. I am guessing Google sat back and decided since everything is open, the Android world didn’t need secure, streaming video. Problem is we do. So this created a burgeoning side industry where the CDN’s, Microsoft, DRM companies and video toolkit companies could develop various ways for Android to securely stream video. With Apple we don’t need these extras. So someone like Spuul had to spend a lot of time finding a cost effective way to match what we do on iOS. Not easy. This is the part the video guys have to deal with in the Android world that developers not dealing with video will NEVER see. This alone is why the BBC needs a larger team and why people like Spuul need to spend more time on Android than iOS.

Apart from the video stuff we notice right away that customers with Android pay less, complain more about having to pay and are more cutthroat in leaving comments in the Play Store blaming the developer for everything that is wrong in the world. Fortunately we are able to respond to the comments and we try to for each and every one. I find that it helps to respond to the good and the bad – since we have started doing this our rating has gone up and we see less comment trolls. I tend to look at it like the school bully – if you stand up to the bully he becomes less of a bully. It is a shame Apple has yet to allow developers to respond to comments. This is one area where Google Play is so much better than the App Store.

I think when it comes to the payment issues in some sense Google is far ahead of Apple since they allow companies like Spuul to offer our customers the ability to pay for subscriptions and movies on demand. Apple, wanting to protect iTunes, does not allow us to offer customers the ability to pay for rentals or movies on demand with in app purchase. This is silly – Apple needs to open up more. Google also integrates lots of carrier billing around the world which is awesome – Apple is also behind on this trend. So Google has some openness around payments – Apples does not.

We do see that Apple customers tend to pay more – not by a slight margin either but by a HUGE margin. I have many theories around this but the one that I think makes the most sense for us in the video world is piracy takes a huge toll. People can download pirated videos and load them on their phone. They can watch pirated videos on YouTube or they can download one of many different apps that scrapes YouTube to find the pirated videos to make it painless for the user to watch or download the pirated content. Given that the Android users are familiar with this creates an attitude that within the Android ecosystem that everything should be free. This to me is what creates the largest headwind for a company like Spuul – that although we offer a level of quality and convenience far and above piracy – the users tend to assume that everything is or should be free. Apple does a better job, although not perfect, of policing pirated apps in general. Google tend to turn a blind eye to it cause since many of the apps or content that is pirated exists on Google in such a way that Google profits from it. Given this Google is slow to deal with it.

On top of all these issues  one still has to deal with the fragmentation issue. The easiest way to explain this is to take 2 brand new phones from 2 top tier vendors. Samsung and LG for example. Using the latest OS that they ship with. We have instances where the app will work on one and not the other – usually the majority of the time it is video related. So you can imagine if we the developer experiences issues like that then so do our customers. Add up all the vendors, the phone models and the various OS versions to get a sense of how big this issue can become. It is impossible to deal with it apart from getting the phone that has the issues and figuring it out. Usually it is something small and can be coded around but other times we just can’t make it work and give up. Sure we have issues from time to time on various versions of iOS or on specific devices but not often and usually under simulation we can sort it out. With the Android errors the only way to sort it at times is with the actual device which means some issues we will never solve. This is the fragmentation issue and it is very real.

For Spuul we have no choice but to support both iOS and Android. We also see that Android is growing like mad and in some emergent markets is bigger than iOS and continues to grow faster than iOS. I don’t see this changing unless Apple comes out with a cheaper phone and I really hope they do since users with an option to purchase something from Apple probably will if the price makes it more affordable. Either way we will keep working on both and we know that with Android it will take more time, more money and more bodies to equal what we do with iOS. It is just that simple.

What else besides these two ecosystems? For my money I would only bet on Windows Mobile for now. BB is dead. What else is there that I would take a chance on spending money on? Nothing for the moment to be honest.


10 thoughts on “Android is a bigger ecosystem but takes more work

  1. Out of curiosity is the HTTP Livestreaming and DRM support Google added in Honeycomb/ICS sufficient for video (so the problems come from being compatible with Gingerbread and under), or is the framework still lacking somehow even on 4.X?

    Or to put it another way, would the problem go away if marketshare wasn’t an issue and only 4.0 and up was targeted?

    1. Nope – it’s not sufficient. The encrypted version of HLS rarely works and some brands seem to work better than others. It would create a support nightmare plus in the emerging markets you would not be reaching a large enough audience given the OS requirement.

    2. So our experience was the using HLS would work most but not all of the time but using eHLS would rarely work and it would depend on the vendor. So it was inconsistent at best.

      Also we support from 2.2 up so only being able to use 4.X wasn’t an option when we got started.

      Plus I just don’t trust Google to support fully – if you notice you can run eHLS via Google Chrome on Google TV but the quality is not great due to their poor eHLS implementation.


    1. For some reason my reply to in the WP app didn’t work. For India Windows Phone appears to be making some traction and MSFT is putting a lot of marketing into it. So given our focus is on India – we will have to tackle it eventually.

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