Today I came across a blog post by Paul Stamatiou, who is a designer at Twitter, talking about why he switched from iOS to Android and how Android is a better operating system. At this point, most sensible people would agree with Stamatiou; Android is a better operating system than iOS. What iOS does have are the applications. Take that away and you are left with an operating system that is so barebones that it makes Windows Phone seem fancy in comparison.
But why are the apps on iOS better than on Android? Well, first of all, the developers are better. These are the same people who were making apps for the Mac before the iPhone arrived and have generally been part of the Apple ecosystem. They understand design and user experience better than most people (which is why they were using Apple products to begin with) and hence it is no surprise that the apps they designed themselves turn out to be fantastic.
So when you put together some of the most creative developers around the world you do end up with some stunning results and the App Store is living proof of that. But while the apps are excellent, there is not a huge amount of variety in them.
One of the things I noticed from Stamatiou’s post is the sheer variety of apps that he mentioned. These are not many apps that do the same things but several apps that do wildly different things. Things that you can do on Android because it is open. Things you cannot do on iOS due to software or hardware (lack of notification LED, NFC, etc.) limitations.
So then what happens? You end up with several apps on the App Store that do the same thing. Just look at the number of weather apps itself. We don’t need that many weather apps but they are there anyway. With limited freedom in developing apps, developers have no choice but to take existing app ideas and refine upon them. This is another reason why apps on iOS are so good. Because the existing apps are so good and because developers can’t really be adventurous with app ideas, lest they run into software or hardware limitations, they choose to refine upon existing ideas and come up with something even better if they want their app to stand out.
The situation on Android is different. First of all, most of the developers just aren’t that great. Before Google introduced Holo and made their lives easier most of them were making either terrible looking apps or direct ports of their iOS apps, which obviously looked out of place on Android. Even today, most of them aren’t doing a great job with the design. I hear people often raving about some of the Android apps but even the best of them are eclipsed by what you get on the App Store.
The reason for this is lack of competition. There is very little reason to try and make your app look great when every other app in the category looks like crap. Even if yours looks slightly better it will be chosen over the others. Besides, unlike on iOS, developers on Android can try new ideas for their apps so you have very few developers revisiting existing app ideas and try and refine them. What you then end up with is a huge variety of apps but none of them are fantastic. They get the job done and some of them look decent but they won’t blow you away.
Think of the App Store as a pizzeria and the Play Store as a restaurant that serves everything including pizza. Obviously the pizzeria would have better pizzas because that’s all they make. They can’t offer anything else so they instead spend time and effort perfecting their one product. The restaurant, meanwhile, has a million things to offer so they don’t bother perfecting each one.
What is happening now, however, is that the rate at which Android apps and the platform in general is improving is far greater than what is happening on iOS. The iOS developers seem to have reached a point where they have pretty much reached perfection in their design and there is very little room for improvement. As for the OS itself, Apple will continue to be a ginormous dick, as usual, and evolve at a snail’s pace, holding everyone back. Even the latest iOS 7 mostly improves upon the design but seriously, how many more things can you do now that you couldn’t before or are aren’t already on Android?
So on one hand you have an ecosystem that is improving at a tremendous speed and on the other hand one that is ahead but has seemingly hit a wall. Eventually you will reach a point where Android will not just beat iOS in terms of the variety of apps but the quality as well. And then switching over will be an even more painless experience. Already a lot of people are willing to let go of the iOS ecosystem for the freedom you get on Android. Soon they would be able to do so without any regrets.