Smartphones running Google’s Android operating system outsell iPhones more than two to one. And yet, even as Google’s system has gobbled up market share, Apple has held onto one critical advantage – the loyalty of mobile app developers.
Many developers have continued to make applications first, and sometimes only, for iPhones. They find it easier to create software for Apple devices than for ones running Android, or it may be more lucrative. Their allegiance to Apple has helped make its devices the powerhouse they are for the company.
“Android may have a lead in how many handsets it ships, but it doesn’t have a lead in how much money app developers are making from it,” said Hadi Partovi, an investor in technology startups like Dropbox and a former manager at Microsoft.
On Monday, Apple will seek to strengthen its ties to mobile developers with a series of product announcements on the opening day of its developer conference in San Francisco, an annual ritual where the company tries to stimulate the creative juices of this important constituency. The company is expected to introduce a new version of the iOS operating system that powers iPhones and iPads, according to people familiar with Apple’s plans who were not authorized to speak about them publicly.
One feature of that software is expected to be an eye-catching new 3-D map service operated by Apple that will pose a challenge to a Google map service used within many iPhone applications, these people said.
“It’s a lot more beautiful,” said one of these people, who has seen a demonstration of Apple’s maps service.
At the same time, Apple is expected to update its Mac family of computers with new hardware, these people said.
Natalie Kerris, an Apple spokeswoman, declined to comment.
The conference is “the most important event of the year,” said John Casasanta, owner of Tap Tap Tap, the software studio that makes the popular Camera+ app, available only on the iPhone. “I’m having trouble thinking of any conference that comes anywhere near as relevant.”
Apps have become one of the strongest weapons Apple and Google have for marketing their mobile technologies to consumers. The bounty of software available for Android and iOS, as varied as racing games and apps for managing recordings on cable boxes, is a chief reason the mobile phone market has settled into a two-horse race.
Rival technologies suffering from a scarcity of apps, including Research in Motion’s BlackBerry and Microsoft’s Windows Phone, are finding it difficult to persuade developers to invest in them.
Apple’s continued influence among mobile app developers flies in the face of predictions that the company would steadily lose clout as Android phones flooded the market, presenting developers with a much bigger target audience. And it could help Apple avoid the fate the Macintosh suffered in the 1990s when competing with PCs running Microsoft’s Windows operating system.
Although many considered the Mac to be superior, Microsoft outsold Apple’s computers in part by distributing its product broadly on hardware made by many companies, which helped Windows to snowball.
Software developers flocked to the larger Windows PC market, which in turn attracted more customers, which attracted still more software developers to Windows. For the better part of two decades, Microsoft held the allegiance of software developers, relegating the Mac to the periphery of the computer business.