Android vs. iOS app development: what’s the difference?

11 min read
March 16, 2023

Which is better—iOS or Android?

It’s the question that has sparked eternal debates in forums, Facebooks groups, and even among app developers.

Unfortunately, it’s also one that’s impossible to answer.

iOS and Android each have their advantages, weaknesses, and use cases. Moreover, they each release new OS updates all the time, which means there can be no definitive winner.

In other words, comparing them is futile.

Instead, the better question to ask is this—when do I choose iOS over Android development and vice versa?

To answer that, we first need to discover the key differences between the two mobile platforms.

Android vs. iOS app development: key differences

More than just the underlying operating system, iOS and Android apps differ in terms of development. Let’s run down the most prominent differences.

Programming languages

The most obvious difference between iOS and Android is the choice of programming languages.

iOS apps use either Objective-C or Swift.

Of the two, Swift is the currently recommended language as it has better speed, performance, and memory-handling features.

It’s also well-loved because it’s easy to learn and use, which facilitates iOS app development. In fact, Swift is the big reason why iOS apps are generally easier to develop than Android.

On the other hand, Objective-C was the first iOS programming language. Thus, it’s relatively stable and reliable, with a strong community behind it.

However, Objective-C has a steep learning curve and complex syntax, making it a deterrent for beginners.

Objective-C vs Swift

Source: Sam Solutions

Android developers, on the other hand, tend to use Java or Kotlin.

Java is the core Android programming language, with a long history in app development since the early 2000s.

That makes the language pretty established and reliable. It also has great support from the community.

Java is also well-known for its stability and security, which is why it’s the platform of choice for enterprise software.

Kotlin is a programming language that also runs on the Java Virtual Machine (JVM). In many ways, it’s an improvement on Java, tackling many of the limitations of that language.

For instance, Kotlin fixes the null pointer issue with Java, which leads to fewer crashes.

Kotlin is also generally more concise and expressive than Java, which you can see in the side-by-side code comparison below:

Kotlin vs Java syntax

Source: Ace Infoway

The good thing is that Kotlin is nearly 100% compatible with Java, meaning they can share the same tools and libraries.

This seamless transition between two languages is unique to Android development.

Development environment

An integrated development environment (IDE) is a software package containing all the tools needed to develop an app, such as a source code editor, debugger, and project management.

For Android, the official IDE is Android Studio.

Android Studio interface

Source: Android Developers Blog

Android Studio enables developers to utilize the Android SDK, a package that includes all the tools, libraries, and APIs for creating Android apps.

Aside from the standard components like the source code editor and debugger, Android Studio also uses the Gradle Build System.

This is a powerful and flexible tool for automating the build process for Android apps.

iOS, on the other hand, uses the XCode IDE.

XCode interface

Source: Apple Insider

One of the key advantages of XCode is the Interface Builder. This tool allows designers to create UIs visually by dragging and dropping components.

It also conforms closely with Apple’s Human Interface Guidelines (HIG), helping your UI become compliant.

For the most part, comparing XCode and Android Studio is nearly impossible as they have similar capabilities and strengths.

Differences in design

Hands down, the biggest difference between iOS and Android apps is the UI design. Each OS has a distinct visual look that sets it apart.

For an example of what we mean, take a look at the primary navigation design of iOS and Android, placed side-by-side for comparison:

Android vs iOS primary navigation designs

Source: Learn UI Design

The main driver of these differences is the design philosophy behind them.

iOS design is generally about minimalism and simplicity. The focus is on elegant and intuitive navigation, simple shapes, and a limited color palette.

On the other hand, Android apps have a more flexible and customizable design. They often have complex layouts with more gradients, animations, and rich colors.

For the most part, you should stick to these design conventions unless a different approach is absolutely necessary.

That’s because most iOS and Android users instinctively recognize the visual design of their apps, so even a subtle change can jar them and negatively impact UX.

Complexity of development

Android apps are generally more complex to develop than their iOS counterparts. The main underlying reason is device fragmentation.

Fragmentation refers to the wider variety of screen sizes, resolutions, and hardware specs in the Android ecosystem.

It’s a side effect of Android’s open-source nature, because any company can freely adopt the OS into their products.

iOS, in contrast, has less fragmentation because the Apple ecosystem is closed and controlled.

Android vs iOS screen size fragmentation

Source: Medium

Fragmentation complicates app development because you must account for every device you want to launch on.

This requires extensive testing and emulation. It also entails developing a product that can adapt to any screen size, resolution, or hardware.

Cost of development

Cost could be another factor that separates iOS and Android app development.

However, it’s difficult to determine which is more expensive than the other because that depends on several factors.

For instance, as we mentioned with device fragmentation, the larger number of device variations in the Android ecosystem makes development more complex.

As a result, Android apps usually take longer to create (up to 40%, by some estimates) and are, therefore, costlier.

Android vs iOS app development cost

Source: Ego

However, some additional factors could affect iOS development costs.

For instance, every iOS project needs an Apple developer account—which is expensive. A basic subscription costs $99 annually and $299 for the enterprise version.

On the other hand, Google only charges a one-time payment of $25.

All things considered, the cost differences between iOS and Android can only be determined case-to-case.

Return on investment

This is probably the most important question on developers’ minds—which app has the higher return on investment?

One way to look at it is through their market share. After all, more users could potentially mean more revenue.

And in this regard, Android leads by a wide margin:

Android vs iOS market share by year

Source: Statista

Yet you’ll be surprised that iOS has a generally higher return on investment than Android apps.

The big reason is that iOS users tend to spend more than their Android counterparts. In 2020, iOS spent an average of $24.7 billion on paid downloads and in-app purchases.

This is significantly more than the $6.7 spent by Android users.

Moreover, fewer iOS apps use ads as a monetization strategy—which generally earns less than other approaches. Only 22% of iOS apps are ad users, compared to 63% of Android.

The pros and cons of Android app development

With the differences out of the way, let’s explore the pros and cons of Android development. Unsurprisingly, they are all rooted in Android’s open approach to development.

The pros

The big advantage of Android development can be summed up in one word: open-source.

The open-source nature of Android means developers can customize an app’s user interface and functionality to their heart’s content.

They’re also free to integrate other apps and third-party libraries.

Android also allows developers access to deeper system-level functionality than iOS.

This makes apps like Tasker possible, which allows users to automate almost any action on their smartphone.

Tasker app interface

Source: Tasker

Another side effect of Android’s open-source approach is that companies can use it on their devices.

Thus, the user base of Android is significantly more than iOS. This is especially true in developing countries, where Android has a market share of over 85%.

Android also offers more distribution channels than iOS (which only has the Apple App Store), thus giving developers more exposure to their apps.

For instance, Samsung users have the Galaxy Store on top of the Play Store.

Samsung Galaxy Store

Source: Samsung

The bottom line is that Android offers greater freedom and flexibility to both developers and users.

The cons

The source of Android’s biggest strength—open-source—is also its biggest drawback.

We already mentioned how the open-source nature of Android leads to device fragmentation, which makes developing and testing apps much more difficult and expensive.

But fragmentation can also lead to security issues.

This is partly because security updates and patches aren’t distributed equally on all Android devices. Volodymyr Shchegel, VP of engineering at the cybersecurity developer Clario, sums up the problem:

But as the ecosystem is more fragmented, often it would lead you to the necessity of buying a new Android device to stay protected, as a lot of vendors – especially for cheap smartphones – don’t provide any software updates or provide them with a huge delay.

The Google Play Store is also less strict than Apple’s App Store. This increases the chance of uploading apps with security vulnerabilities or, worse, malicious code.

The pros and cons of iOS app development

Now let’s look at the advantages and disadvantages of going with iOS.

Conversely to Android’s approach, iOS favors a certain level of standardization, which is where its pros and cons stem from.

The pros

iOS is, at its core, the antithesis of Android’s philosophy. Instead of openness, Apple aims to make the iOS ecosystem as closed and controlled as possible.

This has several benefits, however.

One is that iOS’s strict standards and guidelines force you to create visually striking and exceptionally high-quality apps. iOS also has integrated safety features (like biometrics) that make apps more resistant to hacks.

For instance, Apple recently unveiled Lockdown Mode:

Apple Lockdown Mode

Source: Tech Crunch

iOS also has less fragmentation than Android. You have fewer screen sizes and hardware specs to worry about, which makes development easier and faster.

Furthermore, Apple tools like XCode can ensure wider compatibility with minimal effort.

The cons

iOS’s closed ecosystem also has several drawbacks.

One of the main ones is that it limits what you can do with your app. You won’t have access to the underlying hardware or device functionality, as opposed to an Android developer.

Moreover, the App Store review process can sometimes be brutal. It has an average rejection rate of 33% or approximately 1.5 million apps annually.

And the review process can take days in some cases.

Apple App Store rejection rate 2017-2019

Source: Mac Rumors

Finally, iOS can limit the third-party platforms you can integrate with your app, including payment gateways.

This was made famous by the Apple and Epic Games feud of 2020, where Apple famously prevented the Fortnite app from including links that led to purchases outside the App Store.

Android vs. iOS app development: which one to choose?

So, now that we’ve gone through the pros and cons of iOS and Android development, how do you pick which to go with?

First, look at your target audience. If you want a wider reach and greater exposure, it’s best to go with Android, as it has a bigger market share.

However, if your app targets affluent users in developed countries, iOS might be a good pick as it’s their primary user.

Next, consider your timeline and budget. If it’s limited, it’s best to go with an iOS app, as it has comparably shorter development times.

Of course, this isn’t always true and should be evaluated based on the project’s scope.

You should also look at the desired features of your app. Does it require third-party integration or access to hardware-level capabilities?

Then you need the flexibility that Android development offers.

Finally, consider your revenue goals. iOS users spend more than their Android counterparts, leading to bigger earnings overall.

Plus, monetization in iOS is straightforward as the App Store handles payment processing.

Still can’t decide?

The bottom line is that there’s no universal winner between iOS and Android. The best approach is to look at your goals and pick the platform that serves it best.

Easier said than done, though.

It’s not always obvious which platform you need to choose. Admittedly, that takes experience and expertise to deduce.

Something that, luckily, DECODE has heaps of!

So, still can’t decide whether you want to go with iOS or Android (or both)? Schedule a FREE consultation with us today, and let us help you sort it out!

Written by

Toni Vujevic

React Native Team Lead

Skilled in React Native, iOS and backend, Toni has a demonstrated knowledge of the information technology and services industry, with plenty of hands-on experience to back it up. He’s also an experienced Cloud engineer in Amazon Web Services (AWS), passionate about leveraging cloud technologies to improve the agility and efficiency of businesses. One of Toni’s most special traits is his talent for online shopping. In fact, our delivery guy is convinced that ‘Toni Vujević’ is a pseudonym for all DECODErs.

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