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Huge Apple iOS Versus Android Myth Debunked

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Designing an app for multiple Android screens isn't the big headache that some iOS developers would have you believe.

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Commanding nearly 95% of the industry, both Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL) and Google (NASDAQ:GOOG) don't have much trouble corralling developers to design software for their mobile platforms. Unlike BlackBerry (NASDAQ:BBRY) and Microsoft's (NASDAQ:MSFT) Windows Phone platform, iOS and Android more often than not tend to be the operating systems that developers program for first.
 
And in this two-horse race, many developers -- not unlike everyday users -- have forged strong loyalties and alliances for a specific side. However, as Pocket Casts developer Russell Ivanovic recently revealed upon a trip to Apple's Worldwide Developers Conference, iOS designers are far more likely to be fanatical than Google's ilk. (See: Apple Events Vs. Google Events: A Developer's Thoughts.)
 
Speaking of attendees at Google's recent I/O event, Ivanovic said, "None of them care what phone you use, what laptop you choose, or which platforms you develop for. They are actively interested in what things they can improve to make developing on their platforms better, and they are quite happy to acknowledge when a competitor like Apple or Microsoft has done something good."
 
Comparatively, attendees at Apple's conference -- whom Ivanovic noted "highlighted just how insular and superior a lot of Apple developers act and feel" -- aren't as open. "If you don't believe me, just join a group of them at WWDC and whip out your Android phone. Within moments, you'll wish you had whipped out something less offensive, like your genitalia, instead."
 
But in 2014, having amassed over 80% of the market, Android is no longer an afterthought. Even if it's not their first choice, the majority of developers realize they would be limiting themselves if they were to only release on iOS. Still, there are many new programmers hesitant to enter the Android fold because of a very legitimate problem: fragmentation.
 
Although a designer always has to take into account the variety of devices a user may have when running their software, Apple -- with its single, exclusive lines of smartphones and tablets -- doesn't seem to require a lot of beta testing in an app's layout. Whereas Google, with thousands of differently sized smartphones, tablets, phablets, and smartwatches, would appear to cause even the most seasoned developer to curl up into the fetal position under his or her desk.
 
After all, just take a look at this infographic by OpenSignal which shows all the different screen sizes Android released just last year:
 


But Ivanovic describes that infographic as slightly deceptive and says developing for present-day Android (post-version 4.0) isn't much harder than designing apps for iOS. "The answer tends to surprise pretty much everyone: It's not that hard," he writes, "and honestly causes us less headaches than most people imagine."
 
Ivanovic explains that standardized screen resolutions for Android have taken much of the guesswork out of how his app will look and behave on various devices. Listing the 10 most popular Android devices to run Pocket Casts -- which includes the Nexus 5, Samsung's (OTCMKTS:SSNLF) Galaxy phones, Moto X, and even the new 1,440-resolution LG G3 thrown in for good measure -- all the different resolutions work out to be only a few more variations than iOS.
 
"There's a slight variation in width, and there is in height as well, since some devices have software buttons that take up space on your physical screen," Ivanovic writes. But after all sizes and resolutions are considered, that geometric gobbledygook above can be simplified to this:
 

 
The developer says, "The above are literally all the phone sizes we test, support, and deploy on. There are of course other phone resolutions and aspect ratios out there, and in the early days of Android there was a lot more experimentation going on with these. For modern apps like ours though, which support Android 4.0 and above, the landscape is much nicer."
 
He adds, "The resulting group of people is comparable, if not bigger, than the users we target by being iOS 7 only in our iOS apps."
 
Google is trying -- and many times, failing -- to combat Android's pesky fragmentation stigma. But such is the price of variety and customization. And as long as developers discover that the difference in screen sizes isn't the insurmountable hurdle it's made out to be, there should often be two platform choices for every piece of mobile software.
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