Which Mobile Platform Versions to Support in 2017

Happy New Year from a chilly Rectangular HQ here in the Kent Downs.

The start of a new year seems as good a time as any to revisit our advice to our clients on mobile platform versions. Back in August we recommended iOS 8 and Android 4.1 as the oldest operating system versions that should typically be supported by new native app projects. Since then both Apple and Google have released major new versions – iOS 10 and Android 7 (Nougat) – and the percentage of devices running older software has declined further.

As always, picking a target version is a trade-off between the size of your potential user base (the more versions you support, the more people can use your app) and being able to take advantage of new features and design improvements that are either only available in the newer versions or require extra development effort to support on older devices.

For iOS the picture is clear. Apple is aggressive in driving the adoption of new versions of its mobile OS to the extent that it makes it difficult for developers to support anything older than the current major version and its immediate predecessor. iOS 10 was released in September and by late November was already installed on 63% of devices that accessed the App Store. Most of the other devices were running iOS 9, with only 8% on earlier versions. With 92% of users on iOS 9 or later and Apple having withdrawn support for iOS 8 development, all new apps should target iOS 9 and above.

The Android situation is different. Google does not have the same control over devices and so cannot drive adoption of new versions in the same way. This is mitigated to some extent by its efforts to support continued development for older Android versions. Whereas Apple went from 0% to 63% adoption of iOS 10 in little over two months, Google has managed to get only 0.4% of users onto Android 7.x in four months. To match the 92% penetration you’d get from iOS 9 (released September 2015) and above, you’d have to support Android versions back to 4.2 (released November 2012).

In August we recommend Android 4.1 as the minimum version to target. Today we’re updating that to 4.2 but in truth it makes little difference and apps developed for 4.2 may still work on 4.1 (an extra 4.5% of users) if there are no technical obstacles. The real progress will come when projects can drop support for all 4.x versions of Android and target only 5.0 and later but with only 60.3% of devices currently running 5.x, 6.x or 7.x that will not happen this year.

If you’re planning on building an app for your business in 2017 and want to discuss your options with no obligations, please get in touch.


iOS Market Share Continues to Grow, Android Still Dominant

Kantar Worldpanel today released its latest smartphone OS market share data – for the 3 months ending July 2016. The picture is broadly similar to two months ago, but Apple’s share of new device sales has increased in most of the featured countries, an effect Kantar attributes to the success of the smaller, less expensive iPhone SE.

As usual Apple is strongest in anglophone countries. 38% of all new smartphone sales in Great Britain are iOS devices, up from 32.8% in the same period last year (and 2% higher than in Kantar’s July figures). In the US Apple now accounts for 31.3% of sales and in Australia it’s 35.2%.

Despite Apple’s strong performance, Android is still way in front in terms of number of devices sold. It has declined slightly in the US over the last year – dropping from 65.6% to 65% – but continues to grow everywhere else. Across the big 5 EU countries (France, Germany, Italy, Spain and the UK) Android’s share is up to 77% and in China it’s 85%.

With both iOS and Android on the up somebody else has to be losing out and it’s Microsoft. Windows Phone now accounts for less than 5% of device sales everywhere. More than ever the smartphone OS market is a duopoly.

Full figures can be downloaded from the Kantar website.

Which iOS/Android Versions Should Your App Support?

You’ve decided that you want to build a mobile app. You’ve decided that it needs to be available on both of today’s two major smartphone/tablet operating systems – iOS and Android – but which versions of these platforms should it support?

All of them, surely, so that everybody can use your app? Unfortunately it’s not quite so simple. With every new version of iOS and Android, Apple and Google add new features. Devices that are running an older version of the operating system cannot run apps that depend on these new features. If those features are essential to your app then the choice is straightforward – you can only support devices running the newer software. If the features are not essential you can either not use them or the app can be written in such a way that it adapts to the device it is running on – on devices running older software the app functionality might degrade gracefully – but this will add complexity to the app and therefore increase development costs.

When choosing the range of platform versions to support it is important to understand how your decisions will impact the size of your target user base. Both Apple and Google publish regular figures that show what percentage of devices are running each OS version.

Apple is in full control of the iOS ecosystem. It manufacturers all of the devices that run iOS and chooses which devices will receive updates. It is aggressive in encouraging both users and developers to move to the latest version of the platform to the extent that developing for anything older than the two most recent major versions can be difficult due to lack of support in the latest tools. The upside of this is that when a new iOS version is released you can be confident that within a few months it will be installed on the vast majority of devices, making it rarely necessary to hold off on taking advantage of the newest features. At the time of writing (August 2016), Apple’s figures show that 86% of active iOS devices are running iOS 9 (the latest version), 11% are running iOS 8, and just 3% earlier versions. Therefore, in most cases, we would advise clients to target iOS 8 and 9.

Google’s Android business model creates a somewhat different picture on that platform. The vast majority of Android devices are manufactured by other companies, each with its own policy on if and when devices will be updated with new versions of the operating system. This means that it takes significantly longer for a new Android release to make it to a majority of active Android devices and makes it necessary to support several previous versions in order to reach 90%+ of the user base. Google’s most recent figures show that only 15.2% of active Android users are using devices running Android 6.0 (Marshmallow), the latest version. A further 35.5% are on 5.0 or 5.1 (Lollipop) making a narrow majority running one of the two most recent major versions. It is necessary to support Android 4.1 (Jelly Bean) and later in order to reach over 95% of users. Targeting Android 4.1 and later is Rectangular Software’s current recommendation for Android development. The pace of change in Android deployments is much slower than iOS so it may be a year or two before it is feasible to develop for only 5.0 and later.

Mobile OS Version Distribution

Android Exceeds 75% Market Share in Europe

Kantar Worldpanel today released its latest smartphone OS market share figures, based on sales in the three months up until the end of May 2016. These show the continued advance of Android, which accounts for the majority of devices sold everywhere and is almost completely dominant in countries such as Spain (92.8%) and Italy (80.9%). Across the 5 largest EU markets (France, Germany, Great Britain, Italy and Spain), Android accounts for 76.5% of devices sold (up from 70.5% in the same period last year). However, Apple’s iOS market share in those 5 European countries has dropped by only half a percentage point to 18.3%; it is Windows Phone that has been the biggest loser, with over half its share wiped out over the last 12 months (dropping from 9.6% to 4.6%).

If you’re targeting European smartphone users, the message is that Android is the most important place for your app to be. However, if you haven’t translated your app into other languages, your user base is likely to consist mostly of people in English-speaking countries, where the picture differs. Android remains number one in terms of number of users but Apple’s share of the market is much higher in Britain (36% and rising), Australia (32.5%) and the USA (29.3%) than it is in continental Europe or China.

The decline of Windows Phone – now almost entirely absent from the US, China and Japan, and only a peripheral player in Europe – means that, perhaps more than ever, there are only two platforms that remain relevant for new app development.

Rectangular Software Delivers Refreshed Powerplay Apps

Last year Rectangular Software delivered football and netball apps on Android and iOS for new sports brand Powerplay. This week we’ve released updated versions that add extra functionality. These new apps incorporate Powerplay’s new Gamefinder feature that helps teams short of players find players looking for a game. Logged in users can now also receive alerts about upcoming fixtures and the new apps also extend the range of payment options to make it easier for captains to pay their match fees.

Apple Regaining Lost Ground in Smartphone OS Figures

The latest report from Kantar Worldpanel shows that Android’s dominance of the smartphone OS market waned a little in 2014. Across the big 5 European markets (Germany, Great Britain, France, Italy and Spain) Android still runs on two thirds of smartphones sold in the 3 months ending November 2014 but this share has declined 3.2 percentage points from the same period last year while Apple’s iOS is up 6.3. It’s a similar story in the US but the Android/iOS split is now much more even (48.4% to 47.4%). The swing to Apple is most pronounced in Britain where iOS market share is up 12.2 percentage points since last year. The Apple resurgence is bad news for Microsoft as Windows Phone market share has been squeezed in most markets, down to 8.3% across the 5 EU countries and down to 3% in the US.

Rectangular Software Delivers Apps for the IntoTrim Plan

Rectangular Software has recently been working with Natasha Hurst, creator of the IntoTrim Plan, to develop native iOS and Android apps to support the launch of her new IntoTrim Plan book for people who want to lose weight or maintain their ideal weight once they have reached it.

The free apps provide a food diary to monitor calorie intake meal-by-meal and a weight tracker so that you can plot your progress. If you install one of the apps and register a free IntoTrim account, you’ll also qualify for a discount on the paperback version of the book.

IntoTrim (iOS) IntoTrim (iOS)In addition to the native mobile apps, Rectangular Software has also delivered a responsive web app version for IntoTrim that you can use on any computer, tablet or mobile device. We built the web software usingPython and the Django framework. This is an example of how Rectangular Software is not just about mobile apps but can also provide broader solutions to support the mobile apps and to target non-mobile users.

Rectangular Software Delivers Football and Netball apps for Powerplay

Powerplay Football (iOS) Powerplay Netball (iOS)Pitch Invasion, the UK’s leading provider of 5-a-side and 6-a-side football leagues has merged with team sports specialists Top Corner to become Powerplay, the new name in team sports, offering football, netball and other sports leagues. In support of this new era, Rectangular Software has delivered rebranded and updated versions of the existing Pitch Invasion football apps for Android and iOS as well as new netball-specific apps on both platforms. The free apps allow thousands of football and netball players across the country to track their fixtures, results and league tables and to pay their match fees on the move.

Smartphone Report Shows Increased Android Dominance, Continued Blackberry Decline and Improved Fortunes for Windows Phone

Kantar World Panel today published its latest smartphone market share report, this time showing sales figures for Q1 2013 in nine key countries. The numbers show an increased dominance for the Android operating system, which is number one in eight out of the nine territories, with Apple’s iOS in second place. The odd country out is Japan where iOS is a few percent ahead of Android. Android sales are a long way in front everywhere else except for the US where the race remains close. iOS share is down marginally everywhere but the biggest loser is Blackberry, which now accounts for less than 1% of the market in six out of the nine featured countries and has fallen behind the increasingly popular Windows Phone in all of them.

Here in Britain, Android phones were bought by 58.4% of smartphone buyers in the first three months of the year, with Apple devices favoured by 28.7% and Windows Phone in third place on 7%.  Across the five largest EU markets (GB, Germany, France, Italy, Spain) the picture is similar though skewed more in favour of Android, which accounts for nearly three quarters of sales in Germany and a massive 93.5% of Spanish sales.

Kantar is predicting further gains for Android in coming months due to sales of new flagship devices such as the HTC One and Samsung Galaxy S4.

Users Prefer Native Apps as HTML5 Reality Falls Short of Promise

There have been a couple of interesting contributions in the last week to the ongoing HTML5 vs native mobile app debate. Firstly, Compuware APM published some research that indicates that 85% of smartphone users prefer to use native apps rather than mobile web apps. Secondly, the team behind the popular accounting software Xero announced that they are switching focus to native apps following difficulties in delivering an acceptable mobile web offering.

The Xero team were keen to exploit their existing web development talents when building a mobile version and acknowledge that this, not user experience, was their primary justification for choosing the HTML5 route. But when their efforts failed to yield acceptable results they changed tack:

Xero prides itself on not compromising on customer experience, and when it comes down to it, the question isn’t “How can we use our existing skills to build a mobile application?” but “What is going to enable us to deliver the best customer experience on the mobile devices that our customers use?”

This is a similar conclusion to that reached by Facebook last year when it replaced HTML5 with native on iOS.

As we’ve mentioned previously, one of the key promises of HTML5 is that you can build one app that works everywhere. If you’re targeting multiple mobile platforms this is supposed to make it easier as you don’t have to duplicate effort by creating native apps for each operating system. What’s interesting about the Xero announcement is that they’ve acknowledged that the reality is somewhat different. They’ve concluded that with the current state of the tools and mobile web browsers they would have to put in more effort than it would take to build native apps:

…the lesson we’ve learnt over the last 12 months has been that the cost in time, effort and testing to bring an HTML5 application to a native level of performance seems to be far greater than if the application was built with native technologies from the get-go.

Current trends show that the mobile market is consolidating on just two major platforms, with Google and Apple squeezing out BlackBerry, Microsoft and others. That makes focusing on just the big two a viable mobile strategy. And if there are only two platforms that really count then, as things stand at present, native apps are the way to go.

The picture will of course change as the HTML5 ecosystem matures but for the likes of BlackBerry and Microsoft that can’t happen soon enough. Right now developers may well choose an excellent experience for ~90% of users over a mediocre one for everybody.

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