Today is a big day in that another one of the pillars of the iOS Apps Store has made the transition to Android. Marco Arment, the developer behind Instapaper for iOS, is vocal about his preference for iOS as a user and has leveled several criticisms against Android as a development platform. His main complaint is that the Android ecosystem doesn’t seem like a good place where a developer can make money from a premium app.
Between the highly-fragmented device market which necessitates a whole lot of testing and the content of the Google Play store (lots of copy-cats, free apps, and spam), the Android platform just never seemed to be worth the effort compared to iOS. Last year, Marco
said publicly that he would endorse an Android Instapaper client as official if its developer was willing to meet certain feature requirements, handle all the development and support themselves, and split the revenue with him. Though he’s kept a tight lid on it, it seems that Marco has indeed been working with the development group, Mobelux to bring Instapaper to Android.
This is a big deal for a few reasons. Unlike other apps like Flipboard and Instagram which have recently made the jump from iOS to Android, Instapaper is a paid app ($2.99). The goal for the Android app is not just to increase the number of users using a service, but to actually make a profit which is exactly what Marco and other developers have said seems unlikely on Android.
In addition to being an experiment in Profitability, Instapaper for Android also serves to further blur the lines between iOS and Android for users. The platforms and the phones are still strikingly different of course, but for some users, the choice still comes down to the availability of apps. As more apps go cross-platform, fewer users will be able to make a phone decision based solely on the availability of their favorite app on that platform. In other words, the choice depends more on the OS and the device rather than the ecosystem. In my opinion as a user, that’s more how I’d like things to be. No one wants to be tied to a platform just because of an app they need to use. Imagine if Microsoft Office for Mac didn’t exist. How many more people would feel like they had to use a Windows machine just for that reason?
This last bit is more of a thought-experiment than a prediction, but I wonder if the availability of more high-quality, money-making apps for Android will allow or encourage Google to tighten the reins on their Play Store. As I said before, there are lots of copy-cats and spam apps out there. Play was a big improvement over the Android Marketplace, but it can still be a little tricky to sort the wheat from the chaff. Perhaps if Google doesn’t have to worry about having enough apps, they can worry more about the quality of the apps they do have.