The need for cross-platform app parity

The need for cross-platform app parity

Summary: Android and iOS dominate the mobile space in sales and market share so app developers are driven to support both platforms with their apps. Sadly, they don't always do that well.

Note 8 iPad mini

Not too long ago apps would appear only on the iPad as it was the biggest selling tablet and thus offered the biggest exposure for developers. Then Android started chipping away at market share and got as big as iOS, if not bigger. Apps originally on iOS were released on Android to take advantage of the big user numbers, and some even appeared on Android first.

Often, the Android version lags behind the iOS app due to the work required for small developer shops to support two platforms. The thought process is apparently to get the Android app out and catch up to the the features in the iOS version over time. While understandable, users are the ones left in the lurch with this approach.

Those who only use the Android version of an app will see the deficiencies and likely drop these apps quickly and move on to the competition.

I use several such apps heavily and it is difficult moving between the two platforms due to the inconsistent user experince. I realize that I am not the typical user as I regularly switch between the iPad and Android tablets, so I am more familiar with the shortcomings of the apps on the Android platform.

This is better for the app developer as I am more likely to stick with using the Android app, hoping it catches up with the features of the iPad app. I suspect most Android users will drop the app forever after trying it and discovering the lack of features, not realizing (nor caring) that the iPad version is much better.

Zite iPad and Android
Left: Zite on iPad; Right: Zite on Android tablet -- Image credit: James Kendrick/ZDNet

One app that I use heavily is Zite, and the Android version is so much worse than the iPad app the developers should be embarrassed. A quick glance at the two versions displayed side-by-side (above) is all you need to understand how bad the Android version is compared to the one on the iPad. This has been the reality for a long time so it doesn't seem that the folks at Zite intend to bring feature parity to Android, nor care.

The two versions of Zite have a huge lack of parity in features and a very different user experience (UX). While I use Zite on the iPad a lot, I rarely use it on Android because it lacks so much. I suspect those only having an Android tablet may look at Zite once and then drop it, never to return.

NB iPad and Android
Left: Newsblur on iPad; Right: Newsblur on Android tablet -- Image credit: James Kendrick/ZDNet

The looming cancellation of the Google Reader service pushed me to try a number of alternatives to take up the slack. I settled on Newsblur as the web interface is fantastic and the iPad app is good. Everything would be perfect if the Newsblur app on Android wasn't seriously lacking.

Missing design features in Android make Newsblur hard to use, such as items I've already read are regularly appearing in lists for unread items only, and the lack of multiple columns which would take advantage of the tablet screen, are seriously annoying. These combine to make it impossible to tell where in a long list of articles I am currently located, which makes it hard to use Newsblur on Android.

I am not picking on the developers of these two apps in particular, merely using them as examples. I really like Newblur which is why I paid for the premium service. I also think Zite is one of the best services/apps on iOS. 

Some might say that my case is unusual in that I use apps on both platforms, and that's the only reason I know the Android version is seriously lacking. That's true to a point but I believe that those who only use the Android version will see the same deficiencies and likely drop these apps quickly and move on to the competition. Those customers are likely lost forever.

I realize developing and supporting apps is a difficult task, especially for small developer houses. I'm not knocking them at all, I just believe if they can't get all platform versions of the app in feature parity right away, it would be better to hold off releasing all platform versions at the same time. Each app represents the developer and if it presents a bad experience that's how the developer will be viewed (and remembered).

Topics: Mobility, Android, Apps, iPad, Tablets

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  • I completely agree

    Some apps that are ported just look and function horribly.
    • Objective-C and Java are entirely different programming platforms

      Maybe they should all use HTML5 and JavaScript, or other completely open standards... of course, who hurts the most from that? Apple...
      • If those open standards produce sub standard applications

        Than your 'solution' hurts everyone. Personally, I will choose to spend my money on the most useful solution to my needs. That's capitalism at work. And in the examples highlighted by James, it would appear competition has produced a superior product. (As the theory of open competition predicts)
      • That solution hurts consumers the most.

        By forcing the lowest common denominator of quality. Ouch.
  • Developers follow the money not he market share.

    So long as developers make 400+% more on iOS than Android, Android will remain a second class app platform. This does not even get into Android's Eclipse based SDK environment feeling like you have been bombed into the software 1990's.
    • *ALL* developers?

      Yes, developers follow the money.

      Speaks volumes, doesn't it? ;) It also explains predatory actions, in destroying competition that is otherwise claimed as being a good thing.

      Oh, Objective-C still lacks garbage collection - and that platform is even older than Flash...

      Your comment and stats were reflected by the level of detail I put in my response... so it looks like we all get to think and do more research than we otherwise would have had to...
      • Reading comprehension issues?

        I never said *all* developers but I am sure you have issues with facts.

        For example: you lie saying Obj-C lacks garbage collection. It, in fact, does offer garbage collection but it is not enabled on iOS. For iOS (and also future OS X code), ARC provides a simpler method of memory management while offering the substantially higher performance of reference counting compared to the 90's tech garbage collection.

        It is funny you equate a language to an API and SDK.

        With luck, you may actually go out and learn some programming so you can converse intelligently on the topic.
  • Couldn't agree more.

    I really am an all Apple guy. Too many devices to name or number. That said, a few weeks ago I bought a Nexus7 for a couple of specific purposes. There are a number of things I really like about the Nexus and Android, but reading on it is NOT one of them and that was unanticipated. As I typically have my iPad Mini with me I didn't think it was a big deal, but I was encamped with the Nexus and decided to try to make it more of a universal device (opposed to the specific things for which I bought it) and Zite, flipboard, News360, even CNN paled in comparison at best and were horrible experiences at worst. Even web browsing leaves a lot to be desired against the mini. That said, it's not the device. There are a ton of things to like about Android and the Nexus line. Also, high quality apps are out there for Android. But, many just are lacking between the two platforms and personally the blame is put not on the devs, but the Manufs for creating the complex mass of fragmentation Android is as well as a bit of a finger at google for the one size app fits all philosophy they pushed out.
    Scott Weidig
  • I'm sorry but in a free market where comptition is good,

    that socialisty claptrappy fluff about parity and working together and other marxxist fluff, right down to rainbows and flowers and unicorns, just isn't going to get very far.
  • Actually, there is only one proven methods to achieve Mr. Kendrick's utopia

    Virtualization is a proven solution - IF the hardware is powerful enough to provide an acceptable user experience.
    • Then there are the licensing issues

      I don't see a future, where virtualised iOS might be available on Android or WP/W8 devices.
      • There is that issue! Grin

        I was only speaking in terms of engineering solutions and not business practice realities.
    • That one solution ...

      Yes, virtualisation would allow you to get almost the same results on all participating platforms - I work with MS SQL Server on a Linux laptop so I'm very familiar - but then we might be all stuck with the lowest common denominator - "Windows 9 fone" :(
  • it is because...

    ZDnet developers did not add detection tablet from mobile on Android and reflects to mobile site, iPad goes to normal site...
  • Apps Were Never Android's Selling Point

    This just reinforces what I've been saying, that customers flocked to Android in spite of its (lack of) apps, not because of them. Of course the app situation will gradually improve, as developers realize which side of their bread is buttered. It is users that attract developers to a platform, not the other way round.

    This is a lesson Microsoft currently needs to learn: drop its obsession with having lots of apps for Windows Phone, and concentrate on the out-of-the-box usefulness and attractiveness of the OS itself.
    • No human uses an OS

      The OS exists in order to provide low-level support for the applications. Those who "use" the OS are the applications. Not all OSes are created equal -- for some it is more productive pro program, for others, not so much. They also perform differently on the same hardware etc. For an OS to be good environment for application programs to live in, it has to strike very good balance between complexity and performance.

      The amount of users is secondary. You can gain very high amount of users short-term, by dumping on the market (Android). Or you can attract users with a long-term policy (WP, iOS). Here again better balance works to benefit both (iOS).

      Microsoft, in particular will benefit greatly by improving their WP APIs, not being obsessed with "the same OS on all platforms" and by rethinking the UI. Best of all, Microsoft should stop trying to out-Apple Apple -- they are no match. More apps at any price produces just that: more apps. Not necessarily any better.
      • Re: No human uses an OS

        How to explain this then: several vendors of successful Android products have tried bringing out Windows Phone versions running on the same hardware, yet these didn't sell. Clearly the OS made all the difference.
        • Then how do you explain this...

          While Android has more devices within the market than iOS (900 million for Android VS 600 million for iOS), developer revenue on iOS is somewhere around 4X what Android developers make. This is not a small difference.

          Developers do NOT follow the users, they follow the money.
  • as a developer

    In order just to start learning i0s development I need to invest several thousand dollars. While Android Dev is free. So if I don't have a specific project that pays off my initial investment I'll rather stay with android.
    • You do know the iOS SDK is 100% free?

      And the cost to start learning iOS development and Android development is the same. Free. Worst case, if you have to actually get a Mac, you can pick up a used Mac mini that is more than capable of doing iOS development for $200-$300. Far less than some mythical "thousands" you are talking about.

      At least use truth in your rational.