Thursday, June 18, 2009

iPhone vs. Android: Initial Developer Experience

When the G1 came out, I tore into the Android SDK. I noted at the time that, compared to the iPhone, it appeared much easier and cheaper to get an application from the drawing board onto users' phones. Well, now that I've done some development for both, I can confirm that my suspicions were correct. There's just less hoopla with Android.

  1. The Android SDK, including beta versions, is available to everybody. You don't need to pay a fee to be a "special" developer with early access to the tools.
  2. Every Android phone out there, whether a retail phone or a developer phone, is ready for development. There is no provisioning, no additional fees, no nothing. You check a little checkbox in the phone's settings and you can deploy code to your device.
  3. You don't need to be on T-Mobile to develop for Android. Google will sell you a developer phone, T-Mobile will unlock their devices if you ask, and people are porting Android to various devices at an alarming rate. Another of The Gents would actually like to acquire a separate iPhone for development purposes (his sole iPhone doubles as his primary communication wedge), but he can't see any easy way to acquire one without signing yet another pact with AT&T.
  4. Testing on hardware isn't quite as necessary with Android. The Android SDK doesn't include a simulator, it includes an emulator. It runs a full Android system image on emulated hardware. This means that the binary you deploy to the emulator is the same binary that you deploy to an actual phone. The iPhone simulator, on the other hand, just runs x86 applications in a little window that looks like a phone. This is surprising since the iPhone itself has an ARM chip. This is particularly important when you run into strange, simulator-only problems.
  5. The Android Market is cheaper than the App Store for developers. With Android, it doesn't cost anything to deploy to devices. To sell apps in the Market, Google charges a one-time fee of $25. Apple charges $99 per year. That might not be bad for commercial software, but it must be murder for people who give their apps away for free.
  6. You don't need to go through Google. If you get rejected from the Android Market or just want to avoid it, you can distribute your app on your own. Users will be able to install it. While Google is the gatekeeper for the Market, they are not the gatekeeper for your phone. Apple, as everybody knows, has a seemingly broken application approval process. As a developer, you just need to pray that the approval die is cast in your favor. If not, you just wasted weeks of time. Though, I suppose you could just re-submit it and hope that you get luckier the second time around.

Of course, iPhone development isn't all bad. It's just so much harder and more expensive to get your first app running on your phone.

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