Third party accessories: Big advantage iOS over Android

The third party accessory market is an area in which iOS totally smokes Android, and it won't change.
Written by James Kendrick, Contributor

Geeks love accessories for their gadgets. It's not just an obsession, good accessories can extend the utility of smartphones and tablets a great deal. Whether it is an extended battery case for a smartphone, or a case for the tablet that adds functionality, the right accessory can be a game-changer when it comes to daily use.

When conversation turns to platform ecosystems, most folks usually think of apps. That's an important topic, but the third party accessory ecosystem is a source of big revenue that also helps drive mobile platforms. When you compare the accessory ecosystems of the two big guys, iOS and Android, the former wins hands-down.

Want a case for your iPhone? Take a stroll online and you will find hundreds, literally hundreds of options to choose from. There are cases that range from just a few bucks for simple models, to over a hundred bucks for models with extended batteries integrated into the case.

The same thing holds true for the iPad. There are cases that add functionality to using the iPad in a variety of useful ways, using materials of all types. The number of cases with physical keyboards is amazing even though many iPad owners don't use them.

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The Android world is very different when it comes to accessories. There are so many phones that if you have a choice of a couple of cases for yours you consider yourself lucky. Usually only the phone OEM will produce a case or two because they know it's not likely anyone else will.

The situation with Android tablets is even worse, as sales don't justify third party accessory makers to take a chance. They have no assurance they will recover their development money.

Why the big difference between iOS and Android for accessories? It's a number game. Not only do accessory makers know that Apple will sell millions of iPhones and iPads, they know that the latest model of each will stick around for a year. The window of opportunity with iOS is much longer than it is with Android.

That's due to the big Android platform being spread thin around so many phones and tablets. The market is shared by too many phones and tablets, and third parties have to gamble which ones will sell the most. It doesn't help that Android OEMs update their hardware all the time.

If a tablet case maker spends time and money developing a nice accessory for one of the Android models, they're confronted with the tablet maker introducing the next model just months after the first. Often accessories for the previous model won't work with the newly refreshed one. The window of opportunity is very small, and it's the tablet OEM's fault.

There is little incentive for companies that make good accessories for smartphones and tablets to take the risk on Android. The stable platform for them is iOS, so that's what they work with for new products. The third party accessory ecosystem for iOS is vastly greater than that for Android. Android will never catch up to iOS in this area, as the very nature of the business for Android guarantees it never will.

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