Bloomberg’s Adam Satariano did a nice job covering the Apple Developer Conference with a thoughtful article on Tuesday. While WhoDoYou received a prominent mention, and I was quoted for the article describing our rationale for going Android first, there is a broader topic that may be of more interest. Specifically, which platform should a startup target first? With limited resources and a need to be super-focused, many early stage companies face the dilemma of choosing one platform over another. With lots of hype and over-heated pundits shouting ‘mobile only’, or Apple is the only platform that matters, what is a startup to do?
First and foremost, let’s establish that we were asked our opinion for the Bloomberg piece primarily because we represent the thousands of companies that face the decision: which platform first? WhoDoYou was used as a case study, representing a new breed of companies that decided to develop their first native app on Android over iOS.
But it should be said that we actually developed our desktop product first. That’s where we still see the majority of our traffic, and we’ve developed a deep and mature technology solution to create a great user experience. We also developed a mobile-optimized version as our first foray into the non-desktop space, reasoning that most people will first experience a site like WhoDoYou when doing a search on their mobile. If we provide a great experience, it becomes a good magnet for them to download our app and enjoy it for subsequent searches.
Indeed, with our mobile and desktop solutions working reasonably well, and seeing traffic grow quite dramatically, we considered avoiding native apps altogether. But in our case, there are a set of important user scenarios that justified the creation of a native experience. So, once we decided to “go native,” we wanted to be data driven about the approach. As I’ve said, we study our traffic very carefully and there was no doubt that the share of mobile users coming to WhoDoYou was increasingly on Android devices. So for us, it was logical to begin on Android.
Yet there is also no question that iOS is a critical platform that cannot be ignored, despite its rapidly shrinking overall share; and we are deep in the process of building our iPhone app. So, while we may (literally) be the poster child for Android first, we’re also invested in developing on the iOS platform. We plan to release our app soon, and look forward to announcing it once ready.
Now, given there are considerations for which platform to target, there are also factors related to developing on each platform that are worth sharing. I’ll start with Apple, and to be honest, I must say, we have been underwhelmed up until now. Last year we released a beta app on iTunes and found the process extraordinarily painful. Between faxing forms to get our developer’s license, waiting for Apple to review our submissions, getting codes to release the app, and most of all – using a third party utility (TestFlight) to test our app internally – it was a lengthy and sub-optimal experience to say the least.
In contrast, releasing our Android app a few weeks ago was an absolute pleasure. There is a built-in mechanism for doing internal testing, developers have plenty of leeway in describing their apps, and most important of all, the path to actually releasing our app was very, very fast. In comparing our experience on iOS versus Android, there was almost no comparison. So indeed we were pleased to see the announcement by Apple and hope – particularly as we are in the midst of developing our iOS app – that these changes improve the experience.
Before closing this post, however, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the end user experience with both app stores. While it certainly was easier to develop and release on Google’s Play Store, we worry at times about the totally open nature of Google Play. We hear from many users that they are concerned by downloading apps because the permissions can be incredibly invasive, and Google doesn’t seem too interested in helping people navigate this challenge. While Apple may be a bit too slow and rigid, Google may not be doing enough to protect users from some nefarious developers.
So, it is our hope that both platforms continue to work on finding the magic middle ground – making it easy and quick to develop apps, but giving users the control and guidance needed to ensure the apps they download don’t end up causing harm.
Please feel free to comment or ping me directly if you have thoughts on this topic. Many thanks.