Android reigns supreme, but app developers still prefer iPhone

For a year now, iPads and iPhones have been outnumbered by tablets and phones running Android. But developers still flock to Apple's platform. Here's why.

Developers prefer iOS to Android by almost a three-to-one margin, according to a new study. Pictured, an iPhone and iPad play Street Fighter.

No question about it: in terms of sheer numbers, Android is winning the platform war against iOS. It’s been the best-selling worldwide smart phone platform since the end of 2010, and Google’s operating system can be found in everything from budget tablets to premium smart phones.

Yet if you’ve ever gotten into an argument with a friend about the relative merits of Android vs. iOS (or any other mobile operating system, for that matter) you’ll know that apps are what make or break the experience. That’s why Apple must be rejoicing over the news today: although Android is still the top dog in terms of units moved, developers prefer iOS to Android by almost a three-to-one margin.

These numbers come courtesy of Flurry Analytics, a firm that tracks development across mobile platforms. They found that during the most recent quarter of 2011, 73 percent of all new projects were created for iOS, compared with just 27 percent for Android. That gap has been widening over the year – in the first quarter, 63 percent of new projects were for iOS and 37 percent for Android.

A lot of this growth may be coming from (relatively) new iOS devices. 2011 saw the launch of the iPad 2, the expansion of the iPhone to carriers beyond AT&T and, the launch of the wildly popular iPhone 4S. Economics certainly play a role, too: Flurry found that developers that create apps for both platforms make an average of 24 cents on Android devices for every dollar on iOS devices. Put another way, Flurry’s numbers suggest that iOS releases are about four times more profitable for developers than their Android counterparts.

Why the gap? Flurry points to fragmentation as part of the answer. Developers who want to make a game for iOS only have a few devices to worry about: the iPad, the more powerful iPad 2, the iPod Touch, and the iPhone (with or without retina display). Developers who want to make a game for Android, however, have to consider a vast range of tablets and phones, optimizing graphics to fit different screen sizes and resolutions and adjusting features to take advantage of different hardware. It’s not difficult to imagine a would-be Android developer throwing up her hands in frustration.

Last week, Google announced that the Android Market had served up its 10 billionth download, and that worldwide downloads had reached one billion per month. CEO Eric Schmidt touted this impressive reach, predicting that developers will want to make apps to reach such a wide audience. But if Flurry’s statistics are to be believed, it may be a while before Google attracts the kind of developer support iOS currently enjoys.

Readers, what’s your take? If you’re a developer, have you gravitated toward one mobile OS over another? If you’re a user, do you prefer the App Store to the Android Market, or vice versa? Let us know in the comments section.

Follow us on Twitter @venturenaut. And don’t forget to sign up for the weekly BizTech newsletter.

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