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The app-count at Blackberry App World currently stands at a paltry 130000. With around 350000 and 400000 applications respectively, the Windows Phone Store and the Amazon App Store fare better. However, when it comes to mobile app marketplaces – there are two clear cut, runaway leaders – the Apple App Store and the Google Play Store. Both were launched in 2008 (the Play Store was known as the ‘Android Market’ back then), and have, since that time, grown at a very rapid clip. In today’s discussion, we will do a Play Store vs App Store comparative analysis, and try to determine which app marketplace shades it:
- Availability of apps – Till recently, Apple always had a healthy lead over Google in terms of total number of apps in their respective stores. By 2010, the App Store had a stock of nearly 320000 apps, while Play Store lagged behind with only around 80000 apps at the time. However, by the end of 2014, Android app developers had caught up with their iOS counterparts – and currently, it is Google Play, with a tick over 1.6 million apps, that has the lead. Apple App Store offers users a library of 1.5 million applications.
- Total downloads – This one is an absolute knockout in favour of Google. Recent surveys by mobile app development experts have shown that the total worldwide downloads from the Google Play Store is an amazing 88%-90% higher than that from Apple App Store. It has been forecasted that the two app marketplaces will collectively account for 9 out of every 10 app downloads globally by 2017. Play Store is likely to have the lion’s share in that.
- Quality of apps – Apple has a stringent set of design guidelines and strong app review process in place. That, in turn, ensures that the majority of the apps in the iOS store are of high quality. Over the years, the Android App Store has been a lot lax in this regard – and the presence of a fairly large number of app clones (how many clones of 2048 are there anyway?!) and malicious, spammy applications. There are hardly any chances of cases like the Android Virus Shield disaster cropping up at the App Store. Things have started changing though, with Google announcing a manual review system of Android apps from March 2015. Still, it has a lot of catching up to do to match the app quality standards at the Apple Store.
- Revenue for developers – This time, App Store blows the Play Store out of sight. While the total downloads are way lower in the former, iOS apps generate (on average) around 80% more revenue than Android apps. The 70:30 revenue split rule also works in favour of iOS app developers. The surge in downloads of iPhone applications in China (which has overtaken USA as the largest downloader from Apple Store) has widened the gap this year. In 2015 Q3, there was a 24% spike in the revenue from App Store. The figures from Play Store were flat during the period.
- Free vs paid apps – There is a general perception that owners of iOS devices are more likely to actually spend money on mobile applications, than Android-users. The availability (and indeed, popularity) of so many budget Android smartphones add to this belief. Not surprisingly, the Play Store has a higher percentage of free apps (in 2015, this rose to 68% – an increase of nearly 5% over 2014) than the App Store. The ‘freemium’ model is almost equally popular in both the stores – although Android developers tend to go for in-app ads (which can be obtrusive at times) in a big way.
- Responding to user-reviews – Reviews and ratings provided by genuine users – particularly within the first few days after an app is launched – are critical for determining its ranking and visibility level. Google Play Store offers Android developers greater flexibility in this context. They can respond to individual reviews, queries and complaints – and even inform them about bug fixes and request for revised ratings. On the Apple App Store though, if a new app garners negative initial reviews – the concerned developer has no way of individually responding to them.
- Registration charges – Whether making Android apps is easier than creating applications for the iOS platform will remain open to debate – but it is definitely cheaper. To become a registered developer, Android developers have to pay a one-time fee of 16 Pounds ($25) – about four times less than the annual pocket pinch for becoming a registered Apple app developer (65 Pounds/$96.5). It’s not for nothing that many experts advise newbies to start off with coding for Android apps, and moving on to the iOS platform later.
- Compatibility with older versions of the platforms – Nothing to really choose between the two here. The backend support in the Play Store extends to Android 2.2 Froyo – while the App Store can have applications that are compatible with iPhone 3G (i.e., the 2nd generation iPhone, which arrived in 2008). Clearly, both Apple and Google want to make the apps hosted on their respective marketplaces have as large a user-base as possible.
- User-engagement – A 2015 survey by 451 Research has shown that user-engagement levels are slightly higher at the iOS app store, in comparison to the Play Store. According to the survey, 6.2 apps are downloaded (on average) by users every month from the Apple Store. The corresponding figure for the Android Play Store is just a shade over 4. When only free apps are considered too, the gap is significant – with 4.3 free iOS apps being downloaded per person every month, as opposed to 3.5 free Android app downloads per month.
- Listing at the stores – Once again, Android app developers are at an advantage here. While it is possible to add preview videos in addition to text descriptions on app pages at both the stores – Apple limits the maximum length of these videos to 30 seconds. On the other hand, the app preview videos at the Play Store can be of any length (although making a lengthy video is not advisable). In addition, more app screenshots can be added on the app listing page in Play Store than at the App Store (8 vs 5). In general, there is more room for devising app store optimization strategies on the Android marketplace.
- Downloading directly from the web interface – For downloading iOS applications, having an iTunes Connect account is mandatory for users. The ‘View on iTunes’ option (below the app icon) has to be selected, following which the download can be started. Installing new apps from the Google Play Store has an extra level of convenience – since users can click ‘Install’ on the Play Store website, and download the applications they want, without having to take out their handsets. This is, in fact, one of the factors behind the higher total app downloads from the Android marketplace.
- App pricing – Not surprisingly, iOS apps are ‘more expensive’ than Android software. While the average price of Android applications is $0.06, that of an iPhone app is $0.20 (at $0.50, the price of iPad apps is significantly higher). The maximum price cap for apps at the iOS store is $999 – five times higher than the $200 price cap at the Play Store (this is in keeping with the trend of iOS apps being more pricey). Interestingly though, Android apps have a lot more price points (29) within a limited range than iOS applications (7).
- Ratings reset after every update – Happens at the App Store only. On the Google Play Store, Android app developers can release updates to their existing apps – without having to worry about their app ratings getting reset. Unfortunately, this is exactly what occurs at the iOS app marketplace. App ratings are powerful indicators regarding their quality (and can trigger download behaviour) – and the fact that they get reset at the App Store after every update is a drawback. Those involved in Android app development can add/edit metadata more easily.
- Innovative features – While Android offers more than ample scope for developers to promote their applications, iOS has more unique, innovative properties. App Bundles and Family Sharing are two classic examples of such user-friendly features. On Play Store, people can check out the ‘Users also installed’ entries, before downloading any particular app. The detailed download stats for any particular app can also be viewed. In terms of additional features, iOS is ahead – but Android has lots of good points in its favour too.
- Number of categories – Opinions are polarized over this. Many users feel that since all Android apps and games are clubbed under one category, browsing is a lot more seamless and quicker. However, mobile app developers feel that this also increases the chances of confusion and hampers potential visibility/discoverability of applications. On the Apple platform, games can be put under any of the three categories, while apps are placed under two different classes. This makes it easier from the visibility perspective.
In terms of app security, the App Store is ahead of the Play Store (even though this comes at the cost of longer app review times). In general, the Android marketplace is a lot more ‘open’ than that of Apple – allowing both developers and users to do more with app listings and downloads. It is tough to identify a clear winner in the Play Store vs App Store fight. Let’s just say the developers can earn more from the iOS platform, while it is slightly easier to find and download free apps from the Play Store.
App Store or Play Store – which one is better according to you?