Slow Update Cycle Handicaps Android App Developers

iOS 5.0 and Android 4.0 were unveiled a week apart in October 2011. 15 months later the Apple offering has achieved near universal uptake (over 96% according to some third-party figures) whereas the majority of users of Google’s OS are still waiting. Many will never receive an upgrade for their current devices.

With less than 40% of Android users running Ice Cream Sandwich (Android 4.0) or Jelly Bean (Android 4.1/4.2), app developers find themselves having to support outdated versions of the operating system in order to reach the widest audience of Android users. To be runnable by 90% or more of users, an Android app must run on Android 2.2 (Froyo), an OS that is four months short of its third birthday. iOS developers on the other hand need only support a 10-month-old version (iOS 5.1) in order to reach the same percentage of users.

This pattern seems set to continue (iOS 6 already has twice the penetration of Android 4.x despite being only four months old) and while it does Android developers will not be able to rely on recent OS features if they intend their app to be usable by the majority. In contrast, an iOS app developer can happily forget about the limitations of all but the last couple of versions of the platform, which leads to a much more straightforward development process with far fewer workarounds and compromises.

With many Android device manufacturers failing to provide updates for older phones, existing Android users are typically only getting the new OS when they upgrade to new hardware. At that pace it is likely to be mid 2014 before app developers can consider dumping Android 2.x completely.

Improved Order Reconciliation in Appmonger 2.3.1

Following on from last week’s 2.3.0 release of Appmonger, the Google Play app seller’s app, today we’ve got some more improvements. As well as some refinements to the previous Android 4.x support there is also a new option to override your device’s default time zone and display reports using the time zone of your choice. However, the change that will probably of interest to most users is the improved order reconciliation.

Order reconciliation in Appmonger is the process by which previously downloaded orders are updated when more accurate financial information becomes available. It is necessary because the near-real-time data from Google Checkout that Appmonger uses only contains amounts in the buyer’s currency. Appmonger therefore uses third-party exchange rates to estimate the amounts in the seller’s currency. The small inaccuracies introduced by this process accumulate over time and make the overall reports less accurate. Fortunately Google Play’s monthly payout reports provide a second source of data that we can use to correct these figures. The Appmonger reconciliation process checks for new payout reports and uses the data to update its local order records.

Unfortunately, before today the reconciliation process was not a complete solution since the orders in the Google Play payout reports do not map neatly to the data in the Google Checkout reports. Those orders in the payout report that reference the Google Checkout order ID could be matched, but there were many others that could not be reconciled. Version 2.3.1 of Appmonger fixes this by making sense of the various different types of ID used in the payout reports. Some of these refer to a merchant ID that is present for some but not all orders in the Google Checkout data. In order to make the necessary connections Appmonger now stores this merchant ID when it is present. This means that if you want the new version to reconcile your previously downloaded orders, you will need to delete the app’s data and download them again so that this extra information is obtained.

Appmonger 2.3.0 – Updated for Android 4.x

Appmonger 2.3.0Version 2.3.0 of Appmonger is now available  from Google Play.

This version updates the user interface for Android 4.x (Ice Cream Sandwich and JellyBean). It also includes fixes for a couple of issues. The reconciliation process, which had stopped functioning following changes to Google’s publisher console, should now work again. This release also fixes a problem with a missing pie chart legend when sharing PNG chart images on some devices.

One final point to note, if you are still using the old version of the Google Play publisher console, the reconciliation process will switch you to using version 2 the first time you run it (this is a side effect of retrieving your developer ID). Your ID will be cached after this and you can switch back to the old version of the publisher console the next time you login to it.

Rectangular Software Builds Northern Rail iPhone App

Working in partnership with online rail ticketing specialists Assertis, Rectangular Software recently delivered the first iPhone app for train operator Northern Rail. Northern Rail is one of the largest train operating companies in the UK and is responsible for services across the north of England that serve almost a quarter of the UK’s population.

This new app, available free-of-charge, provides live departure and arrival information for all train services across Great Britain (not just Northern Rail routes) and the ability to purchase tickets for these services.

Northern Rail iOS App Main ScreenNorthern Rail iOS App Live DeparturesNorthern Rail iOS App Live Service StatusNorthern Rail iOS App Journey Planning

The Northern Rail iPhone app is available now as a free download from the iTunes App Store.

Appmonger Update to Handle Exchange Rate Problems

Several users of Appmonger have reported problems downloading exchange rates in the last day or so. This is because the site that Appmonger uses for exchange rates has been offline (whether this is due to the ongoing weather problems in the US that have taken several sites down or some other problem is unclear).

This is not the first time that the exchange rate provider has been unavailable so, to prevent such outages causing problems again in future, I’ve just published a small update to Appmonger (version 2.2.13) that will fall-back to downloading cached exchange rates from rectangularsoftware.com if the primary source is unavailable. Please install this update from Google Play and hopefully you will not encounter these problems any more.

On the subject of further updates to Appmonger, several users have asked about when the app will be updated for Android 4.x so that it does not appear out-dated on newer phones. This update is imminent but has not been tested so was not included in today’s new build. It will be with you shortly.

Themes from Apps World

Today I attended Day 1 of Apps World at Earls Court in London. Events such as this provide a useful snapshot of the current state of the mobile app economy. Listening to the talks and seeing who is exhibiting you notice certain trends.

Whereas 12 months ago you might have expected similar events to be inundated with mobile ad companies, this year the focus appears to be more on solving the more pressing problem of discoverability. With over one million different apps available on the two leading app stores, making sure that users actually find your offering in the deluge of alternatives is paramount. Whatever your monetisation strategy, it can only be effective if you can attract enough users.

The other thing that was immediately obvious is that both RIM and Microsoft are investing heavily in wooing developers to build apps for their platforms. The two companies are currently fighting for a distant third place, behind Android and iOS, in both platform market share and developer mind share.

Microsoft is pushing Windows 8 hard, and with it attempting to blur the distinction between desktop/laptop computers and tablets. This differs from the iOS/Android approach that treats tablets as very different devices to PCs with very different operating systems. With Windows 8 it seems it is the smartphone that is more the odd-one-out in the trio of device types, although the picture isn’t complete since the Windows Phone 8 development tools haven’t been unveiled yet. The non-phone Windows 8 is available to the general public at the end of this month.

RIM is betting everything on its still-not-quite-ready-yet BlackBerry 10 operating system. Perhaps most significantly, it is offering the most eye-catching incentive for app developers on any platform. The Canadian company guarantees that your paid-for native BlackBerry app will make at least $10,000 in revenue. If it doesn’t RIM will write you a cheque for the difference (so long as you were able to generate at least $1,000 in 12 months).

Developer Relations VP Alec Saunders reiterated that Java is now dead on BlackBerry. It remains to be seen whether existing BlackBerry Java developers will migrate to the new BlackBerry developer tools, as RIM hopes, or instead jump ship to Android where their Java skills are more transferable. RIM may also have inadvertently pushed developers towards an Android-only future by providing the ability for BlackBerry 10 to run repackaged Android apps, thereby obviating any pressing need for a native BlackBerry app.

On a related note, the Apps World organisers did RIM no favours by scheduling the BlackBerry talks beneath the imposing figure of a giant inflatable Android. The symbolism was inescapable.

Rectangular Software Builds Blackjack Training App for iOS

Simplicent LLC has today released the first version of Learn Pro Blackjack, for iPhone and iPad. This blackjack training app, built for Simplicent by Rectangular Software, teaches users the fundamentals of Basic Strategy – the essential knowledge for maximising your chances of winning at the table.

With a typical house edge of around just 0.5%, blackjack is a far better proposition for the discerning player than other casino games such as roulette, but only if you make the right decisions in your play. Basic Strategy is a proven set of rules that determine what you should do in every possible situation to give yourself the best chance of winning.

Learn Pro Blackjack combines a set of training flashcards with a comprehensive strategy test consisting of 340 scenarios. The app supports both Las Vegas and Atlantic City rules and includes additional tips to help you get the most from your gaming experience.

If you want to learn blackjack strategy, the app is available now from the iTunes App Store.

Learn Pro Blackjack Main ScreenLearn Pro Blackjack Basic Strategy flashcardsLearn Pro Blackjack Basic Strategy testLearn Pro Blackjack Settings

Latest Smartphone Market Share Data – Android Dominance Increases

At Rectangular Software we try to keep track of the state of the mobile market place so that we can better advise our clients on mobile app strategies. So we’re always on the look-out for the latest data. Things change so fast in this space that figures from 6 months ago can be hopelessly misleading.

I was interested therefore to see that Kantar Worldpanel today published its latest smartphone market share figures for eight key countries (Australia, Brazil, France, Germany, Great Britain, Italy, Spain and the United States). Based on device sales for the 12-week period ending on 5th August, the figures show that Android is the most popular platform in each of the countries, with over half of the market everywhere except Brazil and 61.2% overall (up from 52.2% this time last year).

Beyond the good news for Google the picture is more varied from country to country. Apple’s iOS is doing much better in the three anglophone countries than elsewhere. It has over 35% of the US market but less than 3% in Spain where Android has an almost total monopoly.

RIM’s market share for its BlackBerry devices has collapsed everywhere except France. In the important US market it has been all but wiped out. Overall RIM has been pushed into fourth place behind Microsoft, which is finally gaining some traction for its Windows Phone OS, albeit with a still modest 4.8% share.

The regional variation in the numbers underline the importance of understanding who your users are before deciding which platforms to focus your resources on.

Operating System GB EU 5 Key 8
Android 62.4% 67.1% 61.2%
iOS 20.8% 14.6% 23.7%
RIM 9.3% 6.1% 3.8%
Windows 4.3% 5.2% 4.8%
Symbian 1.5% 4.3% 3.2%
Bada 0.5% 2.4% 1.3%
Others 0.1% 0.4% 2.1%
GB = Great Britain | EU 5 = GB + France, Germany, Italy, Spain | Key 8 = EU 5 + Australia, Brazil, USA

The full figures can be downloaded here (PDF).

HTML5 vs. Native Mobile Apps

I was interested to read (via the Guardian) that Facebook has replaced its HTML5 mobile web app with a native app for the iPhone and iPad and is most likely preparing to introduce a native Android app too.

This is significant because there has been a growing trend for companies to favour mobile web apps over native apps (that is apps tailored specifically to one mobile platform, such as iOS, Android or BlackBerry, using tools and technologies that are incompatible with the other platforms). The obvious attraction of the web-based approach is that a single application will, in theory, work across all major smartphones and tablets, regardless of which operating system they run. Facebook’s move is an acknowledgement that while this is clearly a cost-effective way of reaching the widest user base, it does not offer the best possible user experience:

“So while utilizing web technology has allowed us to support more than 500 million people using Facebook on more than 7000 supported devices, we realized that when it comes to platforms like iOS, people expect a fast, reliable experience and our iOS app was falling short. Now that our mobile services had breadth, we wanted depth.”

That native apps offer the potential for the richest user experience is not controversial. Being tailored to a single platform, a native app can integrate seamlessly with the device and take advantage of the full range of hardware and operating system features in the most efficient way possible. In contrast, there will always be an element of lowest common denominator compromise in any cross-platform alternative.

The downside to native apps has been the cost of supporting multiple mobile platforms. Build an iOS app and you have an app that runs on iOS devices. You’ll have to build a separate app to reach Android users and then you still don’t have a solution for BlackBerries. So it’s unsurprising that as HTML5 becomes more mature, mobile devices become faster, and mobile network bandwidth increases, more companies are deciding that mobile web apps are good enough. They are happy to trade platform-specific fit and finish in favour of reduced development costs compared to developing several different native apps.

But before dismissing the idea of building separate native apps it’s worth considering how many platforms you would actually need to support. Over the last year the mobile ecosystem has become considerably less diverse, as these recent figures from Gartner show. Whereas in Q2 of 2011 there were four mobile platforms with a double-digit share of devices sold worldwide, in the same quarter this year Android accounts for almost two thirds (64.1%) and Apple’s iOS (18.8%) is the only other big player. Nokia has all but abandoned Symbian, BlackBerry maker RIM has shed more than half of its market share and, despite Microsoft and Nokia’s best efforts, Windows Phone (2.7%) is still languishing in 6th place behind even Samsung’s low-end Bada OS.

Operating System Market Share Q2 2012 Change from Q2 2011
Android 64.1% +20.7%
iOS 18.8% +0.6%
Symbian 5.9% -16.2%
Research In Motion 5.2% -6.5%
Bada 2.7% +0.8%
Microsoft 2.7% +1.3%
Others 0.6% -0.4%

In light of these numbers, it appears that in many cases it may be sufficient to target just two platforms for your mobile app – at least initially. In that case the cost differences compared to developing a single HTML5 mobile web app might not be that significant. Cost is of course not the only consideration. Some apps have requirements that make them inherently more suited to one approach or the other. Here are some of the other factors that may influence your decision:

HTML5 Advantages

  • A single app will work on many different devices
  • Can build on existing non-mobile web app infrastructure
  • Retain full control over app distribution/subscriptions (not subject to app store rules/fees)
  • Ability to update the app immediately if required (no need to wait for a review)

Native App Advantages

  • Faster / smoother user experience
  • Native look and feel (familiar user interface that will function exactly like other apps on the device)
  • Access to all hardware/platform functionality (cameras, Bluetooth, accelerometers, NFC, calendar, contacts, notifications, widgets, etc.)
  • Better offline experience (for apps that can function without Internet)
  • Easier to sell/distribute (hosting and payment processing are provided by the app store)

Rectangular Software Builds Android App for Pitch Invasion

Rectangular Software recently delivered the first Android app for Pitch Invasion, the UK’s leading organiser of 5-a-side and 6-a-side football leagues. This native app runs on all devices running Android 2.2 and later and enables players to find local leagues, keep track of their results and fixtures and pay fees. The new Android app complements Pitch Invasion’s existing iPhone app, the most recent version of which was also developed by Rectangular Software.

The official Pitch Invasion Android app can be downloaded free-of-charge from Google Play.

Pitch Invasion Android app main screenPitch Invasion Android app tables/results/fixtures screen

« Older Posts