Google needs to push developers if it wants Android to dominate more than the phone market

This article may contain personal views and opinion from the author.
Google needs to push developers if it wants Android to dominate more than the phone market
Google has always had a strange relationship with its hardware and software partners. Where Apple is seen as something of a bully, forcing software partners to fall in line or face punishment, Google has always tried to steer Android with a lighter hand. That hand is getting heavier in some respects, but Google seems to be putting pressure in strange places and not taking control where it should be. 

The Nexus program has often been Google's way to not only offer a pure Android experience for developers, but also to showcase the direction Google would like to see Android hardware take. For example, the Nexus 5X and 6P both have fingerprint sensors, something Google wants to be ubiquitous on Android devices; and, the two devices represent options for customers that want either a more compact device or larger phones. Quality compact phones have been harder to find (aside from the Samsung Galaxy S line) as phones hang around the 6-inch mark, and Google likely wants to make sure manufacturers don't abandon that segment and leave customers with few choices between low-end devices and the expensive Galaxy S.

But, the Nexus program has been a very passive way for Google to steer the Android ecosystem, and has had mixed results as a leader. Google has used a stronger hand when it comes to software skins and included Google apps on Android devices, but the benefits of that are still unclear. Google was successful in getting Samsung to simplify its software overlay, and more companies have followed suit, but that hasn't really resulted in faster Android updates. As of right now, more than half of devices are running Android Jelly Bean or KitKat (Android 4.1-4.4), with KitKat still leading the pack and Android Lollipop (5.x) on under 30% of devices. 

Nearly all Android devices have a certain level of security because Google puts a lot of those features into Play services which is updated separately, but it still leads to a certain amount of inconsistency for developers. And, those developers are the final piece of the puzzle and the area where Google exerts the least amount of control, even though it warrants stronger leadership from Google. 

Software partners need a push

Google made a big bet on responsive design to solve the problems of getting Android apps optimized for the wide variety of screen sizes and resolutions, but that bet hasn't paid off quite as well as it should have. Responsive design is fine for adapting apps between 4-inch and 7-inch displays, but once you get up over 7-inches things get wonky. 

The main complaint about Android tablets is the same now as it has always been: the software isn't optimized for larger screen sizes. Certain apps still default to a portrait display mode (as you can see with Instagram below), which causes problems when using a tablet with a keyboard. And, plenty of apps end up being a mess of empty space as the phone UI is just blown up to fit the screen.

Google doesn't even get credit for leading by example because Android itself still doesn't offer native splitscreen, though that is reportedly on the way, and Google's own apps aren't always well adapted for larger displays. Rather than taking advantage of larger screens and bringing forward functionality that would normally be hidden in menus or trays, even apps like Google Docs leave the layout more like a phone app than a tablet app. And, Android has struggled to find much adoption in the TV space because unlike with Apple TV, where iOS developers worked to optimize apps for the display size and usage, Android developers have not done the same. 

Beyond optimization, Google has a habit of building open apps with APIs for developers to hook in, and then the devs never do so. Remember, way back in Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich, Google built new social APIs to allow developers to hook in to the People app (aka contacts) in order to make the contacts app into a hub with tons of functionality. Google's dreamed that users would be able to connect with anyone through any service, post to social networks like Facebook or Twitter, and add social network connections to contact info. Quite obviously, that never worked out, and social networks are even more siloed and separated than ever. 

Google also wanted Google+ profiles to become the standard for online identity and created very simply author tools for people to link in, but that never happened either. It took a long time before developers really jumped on board with Google Play Games as well. And, yesterday, news came out that Google might be trying again with a new messaging app that would allow developers to create chatbots to give users access to helpful features like booking reservations, getting info from a specific app, or more. 

It is worrying to hear that Google might be making another messaging app, rather than adding features to improve its current messaging app, Hangouts. Word already has it that Google might strip carrier SMS support from Hangouts and push users towards Messenger, and if Google really is making another new messaging app, it might signal that the company is giving up on Hangouts, which is troubling given the insane popularity of other apps like WhatsApp. But, aside from that, this feels like another moment where Google will build something interesting with the hope that developers will voluntarily add more value, but if there aren't many users to cater to, where's the incentive for developers?

The customers are there

Each company has its own way of doing things, but it seems pretty obvious that there are flaws with Google's approach. The same flaws can be seen with Windows, although not for a lack of trying by Microsoft. Microsoft has pumped tons of money to developers and even given away Windows 10 for free in an effort to get developers to adopt Universal apps, which would help build up the value of Windows phones and tablets. But, Microsoft is stuck in a vicious cycle with its mobile devices where there aren't enough users to give developers reason to build anything, but there aren't any users because there are no apps. 

Apple makes sure that is never really a problem for its platforms because it is constantly working with, pushing, bullying, or coaxing developers to build for its platforms and adopt its new features. iPads have a great selection of apps for all use cases despite sales for tablets being down. There are a good number of Apple Watch apps despite the market being unsure if smartwatches are useful and the Apple Watch being prohibitively expensive for most people. Every time Apple announces new hardware or software, it has a line of developers that want to get on stage to show off what they built for Apple's platforms. Google doesn't have that, but it should. 

Anyone who tends to buy a Nexus device right away will know the annoyance of various apps not being updated to support the latest version of Android. Just as Android updates are slow to filter out to devices, so too are developers slow to update apps to either take advantage of new features, or even just to make sure users can install the app properly. That's the most basic update of all, and doesn't even get into games being updated to take advantage of things like the latest version of OpenGL supported in Android in order to give Android the same marketing appeal for games that you find with iOS.

More than 80% of mobile devices in the world are Android, so Google certainly doesn't have the problem of developers not wanting to put resources towards a platform without users. Of course, this fact probably points towards why Google doesn't feel the need to use stronger tactics to get developers to update apps. As far as Google is concerned, maybe the incentive is already there and the fact that tablet apps aren't well optimized is something that doesn't matter to the average user, because if it were, then people would complain more. I can't say if that's how Google feels, but it does make a certain amount of sense. 


But, the loudest voices in the crowd - journalists, reviewers, and hardcore users - would all like to see the software side of Android feel more like a team effort. Google has done a great job with Android and the Google layer of apps and services; developers have done a good job of making great apps for Android; but, those two sides continue to feel disconnected. Google creates services that developers ignore for too long; developers don't properly optimize apps for the wider and wider array of screens in the range of 8-inches all the way up to 50+ inch TVs; and, everyone just chugs along without trying to make things better. 

Unfortunately, Google can't just sit back and let the developers sort themselves out anymore. Android phones are dominant, but in screen sizes above the phone level, Android has a very weak story. Anyone who wants to do more than basic consumption on a tablet will probably opt for iOS; Chromebooks are a far better option for laptops than Android is right now; and, Android TV feels like it was dead on arrival. Android is a great platform, though, so none of that needs to be permanent.

Google is already reportedly planning on combining Android and Chrome OS, which should help the laptop space and could benefit tablets as well, but that will be a space where Google can't claim huge amounts of market share. Google will need to get developers on board with optimizing Android apps for larger devices or Android on laptops can't succeed. Android tablets could be better than they are, as could Android TV, but it's up to Google to push developers, because developers have proven they won't do it themselves.

img src: The Verge



1. Landon

Posts: 1247; Member since: May 07, 2015


4. Charlie_boy

Posts: 71; Member since: Jan 04, 2013

Don't go to Michael H. articles if you're just gonna post TLDR. His articles are for people looking for substance.

26. sgodsell

Posts: 7514; Member since: Mar 16, 2013

What kills me is when he throws around percentages to make it look like Android is so behind. Yet Android has 84% of the market. With around 1.2 billion Android smartphones sold this year alone. That means Android lollipop with only 30% means 360 million lollipop devices sold in 2015. So if you took all the sales from all the other platforms combined, wouldn't even come close to Android.

39. Landon

Posts: 1247; Member since: May 07, 2015

In terms of updates and app optimization, Google is behind. If you could somehow take Apple's update system and app optimization and combine that with Android hardware and devices, you'd have a perfect device. But like your said, they are pretty dominant already so to Google, it's not as big of a deal to make drastic changes.

40. michaelny2001

Posts: 340; Member since: Aug 01, 2012

and somehow best apps are for ios exclusive or for Ios first and then android. I am still waiting for the damn final fantasy 7 to drop for andoid while ios had it since summer i think. Sad. And even sadder is that google has to stoop to apple's behavios to push and bully developers... but aparent;ly that is how business is done nowadays... nice good people finish last. and the nasty ones seem to stay on top all the time. Extremely irritating.

43. Hexa-core

Posts: 2131; Member since: Aug 11, 2015

Another point is that iOS is closed source, so you can't run apps that were downloaded from a source other than Apple App Store. So devs feel they'll make more cash on iOS, because Android apk is notorious of app theft and side-loading, since Android apps can be gotten from any source and still run well on Android smartphones.

51. elitewolverine

Posts: 5192; Member since: Oct 28, 2013

Not really a feeling, more so of a, their wallet feels it. Every year devs earn more from iOS than Android.

13. jellmoo

Posts: 2645; Member since: Oct 31, 2011

That's too bad, because this is a quality editorial piece. You might want to work on your attention span in the new year.

38. Landon

Posts: 1247; Member since: May 07, 2015

I was at work when I saw this so I didn't want to read it then. After reading it just now, you're right. It is a quality editorial piece. That can be rare at times on PA.

23. MrElectrifyer

Posts: 3960; Member since: Oct 21, 2014

Why don't you get your device to read it to you? That's what I did with Surface Pro via TextAloud...

2. hado86

Posts: 177; Member since: Oct 15, 2014

Merging chrome and Android will fix a lot of that! But I believe Google does need to flex its muscle for a controlled chaos. For devs force them to not only make tablet apps but to a certain extent backwards compatible. Also in gaming I fail to see why PS now and grid cloud gaming aren't mainstreamed. That alone would move folks away from apple.

11. maherk

Posts: 6999; Member since: Feb 10, 2012

1st Google should do something about app piracy, when they take care of that, they won't find the need to force developers into building better quality apps for android. I recently bought an iPad mini 3, and I was shocked to see the difference in terms of quality between the apps offered, even betweem apps found on both OS.

27. sgodsell

Posts: 7514; Member since: Mar 16, 2013

The thing is with Android most developers can .make free apps or apps with iap. The reason that you find more apps that are free on Android is because Android has the number of users. With billions of users developers can make lots of money with ads embbeded in their apps.

52. elitewolverine

Posts: 5192; Member since: Oct 28, 2013

can, but normally devs simply make more with iOS. Heck that flappy bird guy was making stupid amounts with android, but he is one in 1.5million.

3. TechieXP1969

Posts: 14967; Member since: Sep 25, 2013

The fact developers haven't brought real quality apps to android, even with over 1.3Billion users, when the OS itself is free and its fairly easy to develop for is just stupid. I don't want Google to stopp to low standard like apple does. I know many devs have shied away from Android because of the ease to steal/sideload apps. The potential for greater theft is high on Android vs iOS where jailbreaking isn't always easy. But there are still going to be more people who buy apps vs stealing them. Even on Windows with theft being high, no dev has gone broke from application theft With over a billion+ users even is 1% did nothing but steal, devs would make more off Android vs iOS based on sheer volume of sales. Consider both Microsoft and google don't take anything off the top for apps developed for their platforms, unlike Apple; the devs should be gung-ho on both. Google shouldnt need to do anything. If having 1.3Billion users isn't enough for a dev to do better, f**k them. We don't need some half-assed dev anyways. I also think the issue is, every Android device is on a different version of Android. However, as long as a dev makes an app work with I would say Jelly Bean or better, they will make far and away more money than on iOS. The devs of Android have no excuse. Android has proven to be the best mobile option. If Google can just switch away from Java which is a piece of crap software to begin with, then maybe devs will move forward. But for any platform that dominates its segment like Android does on mobile, the devs should be killing each other to make the best app and they are not. What Google really needs to do with some of that money? Create their own app dev staff to make apps that don't need or use Google Services. We need Android to have direct hardware access so the devs can make blazing games and apps that take advantage of what is better hardware. Also they need to get with carriers to be able to directly update Android. All carrier bloat needs to be removed and carriers can provide their working apps to the Google app store and all carriers can notify their subscribers that a newer version of their Mobile application is available and include a link. It shouldn't or doesn't need to be hard-baked into the firmware. Also I guess the other issue is apps working without issue with OEM's who use skins. However as I have found, it is not hard to make apps for example for Samsung phones just because they use TouchWiz.I dont know any apps that specially work with Android phones unless it requires root, or its an apps design for 3rd party ROMs. Its time for Google to be like Apple and Microsoft when it comes to phones that run Android. If carriers dont want to sell the phones? To bad. Then they can go out of business, Google can subsidize their own phones and so can any OEM. You log in you pay with a credit card or PayPal, the account is billed every month for the phone. DONE!

10. khaldoon

Posts: 62; Member since: May 17, 2013

what you are saying is mostly right, however, you are ignoring many things. out of those 1.3B active devices only 40% of them are high end and are running the latest google software. next up is the fact that Android is so cluttered. there are multiple chip manufactures each having their own APIs and architecture. it is much easier so use googles tools to develop an android app however it is much much harder to develop an app that can fit more than 40% of the android phones out there perfectly. add to that apple always pay the developers who produce exclusively for IOS and even feature them on the apple store. the problem with google os is its freedom. as a user you can do anything you want but as a developer you really have a tough time getting your apps working all devices. thats why we see apps like snapchat for ex being much better on iOS, on iOS they only have to run on high end phones and have a single chip arcetecture to deal with while on android is has to work on the low end moto e which runs snapdragon 200 and has to work on the high end s6 which runs exynos. sorry for talking so much

18. TechieXP1969

Posts: 14967; Member since: Sep 25, 2013

You don't need a high end device to run any of the apps on Android. There are maybe a handful of very good games that are high end device needed. If a device has Jelly Bean or better that should give devs more than 60% of the Android pie to work with. 60%+ of 1Billioj Users translates to millions and potentially billions of dollars in revenue where Google doesn't get a dime off the top. Apple pays devi to be exclusive to use an an advantage to lock people in. To me that is anti-competitive because no dev Should be locked to any platform. However those few exclusive devs represent a very small percentage of devs. Devs like EA, Kinomi, Adobe and names we have come to know and love have noeno evidence to Apple. ADOBE especially who Apple turned their backs on them after Adobe support them for years even when Mac OSS was barely 3% of the market. Google is the best partner for several reasons. For one they aren't like Apple or Microsoft any many respects. They aren't greedy. Money isn't the sole purpose for why they make their moves. The markets is there and the devs refuse to take advantage. You shouldn't need to offer money. If you have to pay a dev to make apps for your platform, that means your platform ain't worth the time and headache.

28. sgodsell

Posts: 7514; Member since: Mar 16, 2013

More Android developers make free apps or apps with iap. The reason is Android has the numbers and developers can still make money from free apps.

29. TechieXP1969

Posts: 14967; Member since: Sep 25, 2013

Yes. But they can charge for an app and still get in-app purchases. When it comes to apps this is why Android is better. Apple offers no trial period for any app. With Google if the app is free, many cases I can pay for a full version or I can still just make in-app purchases whenever I want. Basically I get to play the game and enjoy it and have it take longer to solve vs paying for things to give advantages. Not that there is anything wrong with it. The fact is I think many devs don't charge for the apps, because they dont take the time to make them at a high quality and no one is going to pay even .99 cents for a crappy looking app. At least the vast majority wont. If you look at business apps where they are platform agnostic. Those apps perform the same. Yes many devs still add some things to the IOS version that Android wont have. Again unfair. If you are going to charge then you need to make the app the same and I think many devs are paid not to do so because their is nothing else to prevent them from doing so. When an app is free and it is free on every platform, those apps should be 100% identical with the only difference would be app features that take advanatge of phone features that could vary by model or brand. Facebook for the most part is identical o every platform. With some basic functions unique to a platform. Remember, Apple was willing to pay streaming music services lost revenue to allow all their subscribers to move over to Apple music. THAT IS WRONG!!!!!!!!!!! Paying devs to keep an app exclusve to Mac OS just to keep it relevant is WRONG. I dont care who does it. A dev is his own boss. Lets assume Apple tells a dev, you keep you app exclusive to IOS and I will 100% match what you sell vs maybe the dev could sell the app on another platform and make even more money. The fact is, since Android has double the amount of users than iOS, with the fact Android offers cheap phones too, if those devs made apps for Android like they do iOS, many people would drop iOS because iOS would have no advantage whatsoever. Look how devs with freedom to make apps for Windows an OSX is. Sure some devs do only make very good apps for OSX that they dont make for Windows. But on Windows we have solid alternatives that in mnay cases are better so thus it is no big deal. Also Macs are only 135M vs Windows at 1.4Billion. If Android did the same, Apple would be forced into a smaller segment and their profits would be much smaller. In fact Apple would probably have less than 5% of the smartphone market. That's why all their accessories are proprietary. Because if Apple went standard, it would kill them as a company. They know this and so does everyone else.

53. elitewolverine

Posts: 5192; Member since: Oct 28, 2013

You are ignoring many flaws inherited with Android. Firstly, Handset Alliance which contributes to Google's core android code, which has made it what it is today, is the DIRECT result of Carriers. This is why google will have a hugely hard time getting rid of them. Apple got away with it because the consumers wanted apple. Not so much with Android. Android simply came at a time when the other offerings were simply out of date. As well, because Carriers are part of the handset alliance, they damn well pushed android down people's throat. And the competition not treating it like a threat, lead to the rise of the OS. The rise of Apple was not because of carriers, if anything it was in spite of them. But people were literally leaving Carriers to get an iPhone, they had no choice but to bow. No one leaves Verizon for a Moto Amaze on ATT (made up phone here). Also the 1.4billion droid number is possibly inflated, and not real active users. How many of those users go beyond calling, texting and facebook that are preinstalled. It was shown awhile ago that average android users only downloaded some 7 apps after purchase of their device. 7. or was it 12? either way, its a small amount. you also seem to forget that, apps, despite 1.4billion devices, are not country universal. Many of those apps will never reach other markets because of not have google playstore. That is a very misleading number. You are simply assuming and leaving out so much, you see this big number and don't see the hole in the bridge. Devs pockets don't tell a lie, on the same app on ios or android, ios usually nets more cash. So despite numbers, it is not enough.

12. Quduz

Posts: 84; Member since: Aug 18, 2015

google did that already in lollipop,android now has direct hardware access with ART runtime on lollipop and marshmallow

19. TechieXP1969

Posts: 14967; Member since: Sep 25, 2013

I am aware of the ART Runtime. To me it's not enough. ANDROID needs to be fixed from the ground up. I have no idea why they took the VM route other than to rush to market.

54. elitewolverine

Posts: 5192; Member since: Oct 28, 2013

Because without VM your android wouldn't be what it is today.

37. iusshpandeh

Posts: 250; Member since: Jul 23, 2014

Another day! Another Essay from TechieXP!

5. Planterz

Posts: 2120; Member since: Apr 30, 2012

My one annoyance between iOS and Android is that so many awesome looking games keep coming out....only on iOS. I have to wonder if certain developers get kickbacks from Apple to release titles exclusively for iOS, because clearly plenty of Android phones and tablets are powerful enough to run those games.

20. TechieXP1969

Posts: 14967; Member since: Sep 25, 2013

Yes they do get kickbacks and this is a known and substantiated fact.

24. chocowii

Posts: 478; Member since: Jan 30, 2014

We all know iOS gets the best good looking games out there, coz fragmentation kills Android.

32. TechieXP1969

Posts: 14967; Member since: Sep 25, 2013

Just like games exist for different versions of Windows, they can for Android too. It is simply no excjse. You can give them all the excuses you want, it holds ni water. There are games I've played in Windows 9x that doesn't work on Windows 8. 8 simply installed a VM. Windows devs Makes apps for Windows 7 or higher or whatever support version if Windows by Microsoft. People who don't upgrade, so sad to baf. Hasn't hurt Windows one bit. If you are to cheap to move from Windows 9x or Windows NT or Windows XP, sucks ffor you. For people who have phones that at east can't get Jelly Bean, screw them. If their phone is that old and it qorks, they aren't going to buy new apps anyways Either they will be forced to move up when they don't work as with Windows or they can stick with what they have

55. elitewolverine

Posts: 5192; Member since: Oct 28, 2013

Difference is huge though, I can upgrade my pc for 100 bucks. Not so for a phone. And the phones limitations on many things don't benefit from upgrades. There is a MASSIVE difference in quality when using a windows pc and a huge gaming pc, vs the all in one. There is no difference in mobile games, and if there is, its very little. So why am I having to spend 700 bucks every year or two. When my pc is now 8yrs old and still running everything I need it too? What phone can do that? Again you seeing the end idea, but missing so much middle info

6. Martineverest

Posts: 521; Member since: Oct 27, 2015

Google is the cause of most android problems.she neglected the tablet space,making developers feel less concerned.even if chrome and android merge,will the problem be solved? and chinese oems have cheapened chromebook and phones respectively,giving developers the notion that android is meant for people that like free apps(which bring developers little money).while ios users can afford to buy apps...of a truth,who wants to buy android tablets that re above $500 when there are better windows devices are gradually becoming sub $500 devices.thus frustrating oems in terms of profits,and giving developers benefit of doubt

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