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August 1, 2013

iOS vs Android, Great Balls of Fire

by Russell Ivanovic

Smart people like John Gruber of Daring Fireball seem to believe that Android development takes 3x as many developers as iOS. He believes it so strongly he mentions it again in another post about analysts who try to fit facts into a narrative.

Unlike John, we actually do Android development full time, and we have for many years. We’ve made big apps, we’ve made small apps. Sorry to disappoint you John, but a talented Android developer works at roughly the same speed as a talented iOS one. They make the same apps, of the same complexity, in the same amount of time. Sure there are differences in platforms and API. Some things are quicker to do on iOS, others on Android. Long story short, there’s not a lot of difference when it comes to development time.

Like the very analysts he mocks, Gruber is trying to fit a story to his pre-existing narrative. Does the BBC story offer a reason as to why the team is 3x bigger? Nope. Does it suggest any sort of causality? None. It’s a casually mentioned fact about an app which is currently being developed. It could be that the team is bigger because the app is playing catch up to the iOS one that came out first. It could be bigger because some of the iOS team is helping out. It could be bigger because the BBC is using developers who are less familiar with Android. It could be that the iOS team used to be the same size or bigger, but was ramped down after the first version of the app was completed. Which one is it? I have no idea, I don’t infer facts from stories that don’t explicitly state them. Justin Williams (an iOS developer by trade) speculates along the same lines. Your mileage may vary, but unlike most other people I speak from years of experience in actually developing on these platforms.

John is certainly not the only one doing this, people write articles like this almost every day on both sides of the fence. It’s just disappointing that these kind of myths are perpetuated in the echo chamber that the tech press occasionally becomes.

Update: Johns response is quite well done, and his research shows that indeed, the BBC iPlayer team is having a lot more issues on Android than iOS. He also links to a PBS Article where they’re having the same issues. Then states:

Maybe the problems the BBC faces are specific to the domain of streaming video.

Maybe? I’d say most likely since that’s all they talk about in the other articles John has now linked to. I realise however, that I should have provided examples of where Android development was faster, or the same as iOS. So here goes:

Skala View development on Android was easily 10x faster than the iOS version. The main reason? Networking is far easier on Android, as are most of the other tasks that Skala View needed to perform.  The iOS version was also there for us to work from. To quote Marc Edwards of Bjango:

Backing up @shiftyjelly’s claim re Skala View. Android was way faster and has some additional abilities.

My Physio, a client app we developed was also done in a shorter amount of time than the iOS one. Again because the iOS version was already completed so a lot of the hard work had already been done. I’d say if they were done in parallel they would have been finished in parallel.

Pocket Casts on Android was easier to develop than the iOS counterpart, though the testing and support costs are higher. It’s no small project either, taking 6 months to complete the version 4 update.

Likewise our other apps like Pocket Weather take about the same amount of time to develop for Android as with iOS.

At this point I could scour the Internet for more examples like this one where the author explains how both platforms took him equal amount of times to develop for, and which aspects of each he prefers. That’s not my intention though, it was merely to point out that Android and iOS development in general, take about the same amount of time. In some cases is Android development harder? Of course. In some cases is it easier? Yes. I’m not here to champion Android and claim it’s not fragmented, because it is. I’m not here to tell you that it’s somehow superior to iOS, the truth is that it’s a lot more nuanced than that.

Read more from Android, iPad, iPhone

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