Marco’s Love of Android

I have been following an interesting discussion between the Shifty Jelly folks and Marco Arment of Instapaper regarding the merits of developing for iOS versus Android and whether it’s worth the developer’s time (read money) creating for the platform.

Eric Schmidt spoke recently at Le Web where he said developers, like it or not, will target Android.  As someone who writes iOS applications, it seemed like an arrogant statement and Marco had his thoughts, which seem reasonable to me:

Android devices have been selling in large quantities for a long time. That’s not new. Yet today, compared to iOS, Android is much less profitable for developers (especially for paid apps), its users are less influential for expanding new services, and its app development is much more painful and expensive. And in the rapidly growing and increasingly influential tablet market, Android has an extremely low marketshare.

Shify Jelly creators of applications for both iOS and Android took offense to Marco statements and wrote some elegant dialog as to the contrary:

First some background. We’ve been in the iOS app store since August of 2008, which for those that are counting is only a month or so after it first launched. We’ve been on Android now for about a year. We make serious apps like Pocket Casts and Pocket Weather AU, things that take a lot of development effort and involve serious server back-ends. We’ve made enough money since then to support 2 full time staff, and 2 part time designers. Yes we’re the guys who had the run in with Amazon, the email from Steve Jobs, and we’re not millionaires.

Finally, since neither of these developers allow comments on their blog, Marco’s rebuttal to the challenge by Shifty Jelly:

If you make the first great Android Instapaper client that:

  • uses the official API
  • contains a significant portion of the iOS app’s features, the details of which we’d work out privately
  • runs on a wide variety of Android devices and OS versions including modern smartphones, the Kindle Fire and Nook Tablet, and whichever 10” tablet matters at the time of completion
  • is priced at $2.99 or higher in the U.S. with approximately equivalent pricing elsewhere, and satisfies requirements to be sold in the Google Marketplace, Amazon Appstore, and whatever B&N uses for the Nook Tablet

I’ll call it the official Instapaper app for Android, I’ll promote it on the Instapaper site, I’ll drop the subscription requirement for its API access, you’ll answer all support email that comes from it, and we’ll split the net revenue 50/50.

As you may know, I write iOS applications but have not given Android much thought primarily for Marco’s reasons.  I like to keep an open mind and would target Android if there was money to be made in any of the apps stores.  I just don’t see it.  Certainly there are tons of Android phones flying out of the stores but are those people spending the money like the users in Apple’s App Store?  I fear not, at least not today.  If users aren’t spending their hard earned dollars on applications how can we be expected to spend our hours on developing for a platform with almost no return.

Who is making money selling their Android applications today?  Please leave a comment.

The dialog is worth the read and is food for thought.  It’s interesting how, since neither allows comments on their blogs, they are forced to trade shots in this way.


  • Matt Lamoureux

    I realize that I might not be the typical user, but I just went through my purchase history and I have spent just over $70 in apps and games in the two years that  I have been using Android.  That being said, the two people in my household that have (or had) Android probably did not even spend $5, but I have a theory about that:  gift cards.

    Just about every store in existence sells iTunes gift cards, which makes it easy for even a grandmother to buy one for a stocking stuffer, or throw one inside a birthday card, etc.   Android doesn’t have that concept yet, so if you want that $.99 app, you have to hand Google your credit or debit card info, which is not a trivial thing for people these days.

    I do think there are people out there (like me) buying a healthy amount of Android apps, but no – they are probably not the majority of Android users.  I just don’t think it has to do with the OS or the testing or the quality of the apps themselves.  I think it is as simple as convenience and availability.  If you got a $25 gift card from your sister for Christmas, you are far more willing to drop $1.99 on some app than going through the process of entering your card information…

  • Rob Bazinet

    Hey Matt,

    Thank you for visiting here. :-)

    Since you looked back at your purchases in the two years since you started using Android, I had to look back at my purchases as well.  I decided to look back just to 1/1/2011 and I was a bit surprised, it was over $360.  

    I don’t think I am the typical user, I know a lot of people who purchase way more than I do.  You might be onto something though, Apple makes it stupid simple to spend money with them.  I visit the store or a link to an app in the store and with one click, I own it.  It downloads to my phone or syncs to it later.

    I think if a developer has limited resources, like me, and needs to choose the best place to spend their time to create applications for which there will be a healthy monetary return..iOS is king and will be for the foreseeable future.  To me, Google seems to create things that are just “OK”, not great and they give it away to the masses, they also take it away just as quickly.

    If Android is going to be a place for developers to earn a decent living then it has to be easy to sell and distribute applications.  I don’t see Google ever pulling it off, I don’t think they are savvy enough.  Amazon on the other hand holds the key to Android.  The Kindle Fire with the Amazon app store is as close to Apple with their sales channel than anyone.

    We will see but I think Amazon is the one to watch, not Google.