Why the Fallacy of Android-First

Dave Feldman wrote a very interesting post on TechCruch (“The Fallacy of Android-First”) where he details why the startup that he founded (Emu) launched Android-first, but after sixteen months, they reverted to iOS only.

There are many interesting points in this post. Here, I would like to categorize his findings and to draw a typical general picture of an innovative market leader and a follower frantically trying to catch up.

The allure of Android

Followers generally try to catch up with the combination of a) price and b) more features. With both more features and a price benefit, it seemly looks like the follower’s offering is better in all accounts. However, if you look under the hood, you often find that the features haven’t been well thought out and that they are actually quite useless.

In comparison, leaders usually focus on actual benefits. If they succeed, the leaders prevail and the market separates into low-end which becomes a price war, and the high-end which is rather stable. If leaders fail and are dragged into the price war, then the market loses the leader and everybody chases features that look good on paper, but are not beneficial to the user.

This is a common theme in many markets. It is also what is happening in mobile.

The Dave’s article, he mentions the allure of Android as the following;

  1. On Android, you can replace the built-in Messages app, while still using the underlying SMS/MMS medium, saving the effort of building a communication service.
  2. Android apps were supposedly easier to build.
  3. Fragmentation was supposedly becoming less of an issue.

The reality

The reality was that allure #1 was a feature that was not well implemented. It was so bad that it was close to unusable from a developer point of view.

  1. Android’s SMS APIs are not well documented. The APIs have also changed over time.
  2. Individual apps can block each other from receiving SMSes. This means that the presence of other apps affects whether your app works or not.
  3. Other issues with MMS make it a nightmare to support.

So the feature was there on Android, but it was very difficult to use in the real world.

There are also other issues described in the post and they basically say the same thing; Android has the features and support, but it’s often not very useful.

The lesson

The lesson is that features which the followers implement are rarely useful. You can’t trust them to have thought out all the issues. Although leaders will also fail sometimes, followers are much more likely to introduce useless features.