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Mobile Pie's Will Luton says Android ain't no gold rush, but there's still money in them there hills

Mobile Pie's Will Luton says Android ain't no gold rush, but there's still money in them there hills
Will Luton is the creative director at the award-winning boutique studio Mobile Pie.

There are some people who want you to believe the massive increase in devices makes Android the next gold rush. However, that can be hard to swallow when they're selling shovels.

At Mobile Pie, we've dipped our toes in the Android water on a couple of occasions, but with the market shaping so quickly we're now ready to go deeper.

Growing up

Certainly the platform's growth has been phenomenal; its share jumping 5.1 percent from February to May this year in the US, Apple only managed 1.4 percent in the same period, according to a recent ComScore report.

In fact, Android is now the leading smartphone platform, with a US marketshare of around 40 percent.

Despite that, Apple still hogs all of the limelight, especially when it comes to games.

Why? Firstly the smartphone marketshare doesn't tell the whole story, as iPad and iPod touch aren't included. They represent 85 million of the 200 million devices that Apple announced at WWDC, that's 42.5 percent of its install base discounted.

The cult of the app

Secondly, iOS devices, unlike Android, promotes the cult of the app.

The user is presented with rows-upon-rows of them; the paradigm of use is through them and encourage the user to expand their collection.

With Android the experience is much more dispersed with widgets and the prominence of the web, leading to lower app consumption. A recent Nielsen report backs this, showing that the average gamer spends 14.7 hours playing games on iOS per month, against 9.3 hours on Android.

Thirdly and fourthly are the old issues of billing and fragmentation.

Apple did a great job with iTunes and getting billing details from users, whilst Google Checkout and Marketplace have languished, leading to most content being free, ad-funded. Paid content is a no-goer with only four paid apps ever selling over one million units and 80 percent doing under 100 units.

On top that freemium players convert worse on Android, with ARPDAUs being considerably lower, in part due to poor IAP uptake.

Going to pieces

On top of this is Android's most often citied weakness: Fragmentation.

Both hardware and distribution have serious issues. There's a multitude of screen resolutions, processors, memory, manufacturers, OS versions and OS branches that make development a less pleasant experience than on some other modern smartphone platforms.

Then comes the raft of thirdparty and operator outlets alongside Google's Marketplace, each of which require individual submissions, marketing artwork and managed relations.

To get the most from each, developers have been known to create a paid, wrapped demo, freemium and ad funded version of the same app, making development a sprawling mess.

Bleak house

All that makes the Android platform look very bleak, but when you consider that there are simply massive user numbers out there, plus comparatively fewer competitors and less restriction than on Apple's platform, grabbing some of the Android action still seems pretty attractive.

However, there's a need to be smart.

All of these considerations (paid rarely working, IAP uptake low) means you need to take a different approach when coming to Android, as seen in Rovio's savvy choice to eschew paid and take Angry Birds ad-funded, initially via GetJar.

Android is the wild frontier of mobile development and marketing, compared to the more sedate iOS.

Is it the gold rush? No, but the next 12 months will be an increasingly important user land grab, especially for freemium games which developers have begun to monetise.

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