Cross-platform apps make sense, so take off your iOS blinders

Donovan Colbert explains why vendors, publishers, and companies should take off their iOS blinders and create apps for the Android Market.

We frequently hear that the Android OS doesn't have the same breadth or quality of apps as the iOS platform. In general, I disagree with this. The majority of A-list applications now have cross-platform support. This is especially true of the most popular apps, including Facebook, Twitter, Dropbox, Evernote, and others. These apps are an exclusive minority that command the majority of user time on both iOS and Android. Beyond that, the majority of iOS and Android apps are mostly fluff, numbers and statistics to make their individual markets look mature and robust.

If anything is an indication of the ubiquitous nature of cross-platform apps, it's that the "Gieco Brostach" is available on iOS and Android. At one point in the not-too-distant past, that wouldn't have been the case. But the market for mobile OS devices has changed, and most companies making apps seem to realize that fact.

This makes it all the more puzzling that some firms continue to ignore Android in a mad rush to deliver, support, maintain, and improve solely their iOS applications. The amazing thing is that the spell that Steve Jobs cast over the public did not end there. Instead, even business leaders were so mesmerized by his song and dance that they lead entire for-profit organizations to seemingly forget that there's a whole other alternative revenue stream that they could be leveraging.

I can think of several examples of this. The first is the sophomoric, frequently NSFW humor site, The Chive. This site has a focus on scantily dressed women, drinking and other leisure social activities, hating work, and college humor. The Chive claims they hired someone to develop an iOS app that was approved for the Apple Market. However, it was so horrible that they asked Apple to pull the app. Once Apple pulled it, The Chive hired someone else to develop a new, improved iOS app. They submitted it multiple times but were consistently rejected by the Apple Market for "objectionable content."

Eventually, The Chive published an explanation to their readers. They added that they were holding off on creating an Android app until they created an iOS app that was approved, so that the Android app could "better mimic the flow and design of the iOS app."

They asked their readers, "Makes sense, right?"

Of course, it doesn't. Now granted, The Chive appeals to college users, and that probably means they have more iOS users than a typical site. Despite this, the uproar was instant and undeniable from the tremendous number of Android users who were very disappointed.

The Chive basically had a blind spot for Android and an irrational bias for iOS. It never occurred to The Chive leadership, as they banged their head against Apple's Market policies, that there was probably a pretty even breakdown between readers who had iOS and Android devices. To maximize your results, you would want to support both.

The irony is that supporting Android is a far less painful process than supporting iOS -- there are no hoops to jump through, no gatekeepers to appease. You can hire a developer, create an app, and throw it out on the market with minimal hassle. Somehow, The Chive ignored that to chase getting their app published on a market that rejected them multiple times. It's like being told they weren't good enough for the Apple App Store made the Apple App Store the only goal they could focus on.

And The Chive isn't alone in this obsessive fixation on iOS. One of the first apps that really displayed the killer abilities of the iPad was by Marvel Comics. Marvel put together a very slick iOS app to deliver digital versions of their print comic books. When I saw this on a friend's iPad, I turned to my Android phone to download it and was disappointed to find that Marvel had not released an Android version of the app.

The Marvel app was one of the applications that got into my head and changed my mind about the possibilities of the iPad and tablet computing, leading me to purchase an iPad within months after the device was released. The Marvel iOS app was one of the first apps I downloaded, along with a few comics. I didn't use it much, other than to show people the gee-whiz coolness of the application.

The thing that brought the Marvel app back into my consciousness is that I recently saw it on the Android Market. I downloaded it on my ASUS tablet and confirmed that it indeed has all the gee-whiz features on Android that it had on the iPad. It is a cool little app. A quick search shows that Marvel just announced the release of this app in October. Better late than never, Marvel. Glad that you've pulled off your iOS-colored glasses and realized that there are a lot more devices out there with potential consumers who want access to your digital content.

The Conde Nast publication Wired was at the forefront of digital content publishing on iOS. After a free introductory issue, Wired began to charge for the digital edition. Wired eventually announced that print subscribers would have free digital access to the iPad magazine. There was some friction between Wired and Apple about the subscription model for digital magazines -- and iOS 5 introduced the "Newstand" partially in an attempt to address those concerns.

Throughout this process, Wired could have easily began publishing their content to Android, but to this day, Wired has shown little or no desire to publish on any platform outside of iOS. It seems to defy logic that these strong, well-established firms are so enchanted by the Apple empire that they'll fall in line to ignore viable alternate channels for distributing their products.

Marvel and Geico seem to be a promising change of direction. More vendors, publishers, and companies need to realize that Android is a legitimate way to reach customers. It's really an amazing feat that Apple has so effectively captured the imagination of not just end users, but of the world -- to the extent that businesses frequently ignore alternatives, even when it's not in their best interest to do so.

I think Apple's spell is starting to break, though, and not a minute too soon. The more that content and apps are universally available, the better it will be for both consumers and for those who want to reach us with their products and services. History shows us how it went for the music industry when they willingly gave Apple the power to be the central delivery method of their content. Hopefully, app developers and publishers wake up and take steps to ensure that Apple has to remain fair and competitive in the future.