One of the great things about writing about tech is that sometimes an app developer will ask me to test a beta version of their product, giving me a sneak preview of the future. The process also gives me a glimpse into the mindset of app developers, and what the real priorities inside tech startups are.
While testing a new feature in one of my favourite apps recently, I had this sad/funny email exchange (below) with a tech startup founder based in San Francisco, which reminded of Google’s key weakness in app development.
App development is a massive, massive business. It’s probably already bigger than the movie business. Google has served more than 2 billion app downloads, the company said at its developer conference, and Facebook has served the same number, too.
But Google has a problem.
Despite its enormous size, the developers who fuel it are all biased toward Apple’s iOS system for iPhone. That often means that the small minority of iPhone users get apps developed just for them, and Android users are treated as second-class citizens. This situation is unfair for the majority of users, because 80% of smartphones are Androids, not iPhones.
It’s a weird situation: Developers want as many users as possible, but the apps they create are focused first on only 20% of the market. And yet many of them wonder why their apps aren’t more popular.
This bias was writ large in the following email exchange I had recently with the founder of a Silicon Valley company who asked me to dog-food his new app feature. To be clear, I love this app — I use it every day. I also think the founder of this company is doing a great job. So I am deliberately keeping those names out of this story in order not to embarrass the company.
But the emails show exactly what it’s like for Android people when it comes to app development. The context is that I couldn’t find a function in the mobile app that I had used previously on the desktop version:
Me: would love to have [that] dashboard in the app so it’s easier to do on my phone.
Him: Jim, The dashboard is available in the app. You should be able to find it in the hamburger menu or the [home] screen. Here is what it looks like [inserts screengrab].
Me: I can’t get to that in Android. Which menu is it under?
Him: Oh, you are on Android! Sorry, I have to remember not everyone is on iPhone. Stay tuned, the new version of our Android app with this stuff should be in the Google Play store by Thursday.
Me: 80% OF PEOPLE ARE ON ANDROID!!!! :(
Him: I live in San Francisco! Everyone here uses apple everything. And we do support Android!
It’s true. App developers who live in San Francisco use iPhones, while everyone else uses Android. The footnote: This founder would love more people to use his app, but it hasn’t really taken off yet. Hopefully he will figure it out!