How do the apps distributed by the iOS App Store compare to the Android apps offered by the Google Play Store? Which app store has a bigger or better selection of apps? Do we finally have an answer as to whether iOS apps are really better than Android apps? Or are there enough developers flocking to Android that Android apps might be better than iOS apps?
It turns out that Android is pulling ahead of iOS, at least when it comes to the number of apps available to users. A report from appFigures shows that in 2014, Google closed the gap between the number of apps in its Play Store and the number of apps distributed by the iOS App Store. Google’s app store ended the year with 1.43 million apps, compared to Apple’s 1.21 million. In 2014, all three app stores — Google’s, Apple’s, and Amazon’s — grew by at least 50%. Although Apple continues on a trajectory of strong growth, the Google Play Store is growing more quickly. In 2014, the number of apps distributed by Google Play doubled. Amazon’s app store, though a distant third, grew its catalog by nearly 90% to reach 293,000 apps by the end of the year.
The Google Play developer community also grew dramatically in 2014, exceeding Apple’s for the third year in a row. Google Play is distributing apps from almost 400,000 developers, a much higher number than was reported in the middle of the year, demonstrating that the Play Store’s developer community experienced rapid growth in the second two quarters of the year. The Google Play Store is now distributing apps from 388,000 developers, while the iOS App Store has apps from 282,000 developers, and more developers joined Google Play in 2014 than joined Apple and Amazon combined.
The fastest-growing app categories in the iOS App Store were Business, Food & Drink, Lifestyle, Social Networking, and Catalogs. On Google Play, an entirely different set of app categories experienced the most growth in 2014, with Games, Photography, Music, Business, and Entertainment coming out on top. The fastest-growing iOS categories by number of developers were Business, Lifestyle, Games, Education, and Entertainment, while the fastest-growing Android categories by number of developers were Games, Business, Entertainment, Lifestyle, and Tools. The report notes:
2014 was certainly the year for Google Play growth. Kudos to the teams who run the store and help developers! With the most apps and largest developer community, Google Play is starting the new year with a kick. Market fragmentation and varying device capabilities don’t seem to detract developers from making Android apps. But, with the upcoming Apple Watch, Swift, and a larger screen, Apple is giving developers a lot to be excited about.
Looking at the results of the appFigures study, Cult of Android’s Killian Bell notes that consumers typically don’t look at the size of the app catalog when they decide between Android and iOS, but instead consider the quality of each app store’s offerings. Bell, as many others do, cites his own experience with the two app stores when assessing the quality of their offerings. He notes that while the Google Play Store has its “gems” and acknowledges that cross-platform apps tend to deliver the best experience regardless of the device at hand, the iOS App Store has what Bell characterizes as “a bigger selection of standout titles.”
He says that many iOS-only apps are not only unmatched on Android, but that their Android substitutes don’t match the level of “polish and finesse” of the third-party apps built for Apple’s platform.
Is there a way to quantify the long and widely held belief that the iOS App Store offers a superior selection when it comes to the quality of apps? Reports from the ARC (Application Resource Center), a “digital magazine focused on all things apps,” by Applause aim to do just that. Applause has built a business offering testing services, software tools, and analytics that assess the quality of apps’ design, development, and content.
That includes trawling every rating and every review from the major app stores to gauge how an app is perceived by users, and the data gleaned through these analytics provide a pretty thorough look at how the quality of the apps in the Google Play Store and the iOS App Store compare. The reports that ARC has compiled so far — and those that it will create in the coming months– document the state of app quality as measured through app store ratings and reviews.
ARC’s report on media and entertainment apps started with 48,640 apps in the Google Play Store and the iOS App Store. Researchers consolidated the app store categories into a neater set of categories, which included Books & Reference, Media & Entertainment, Music & Audio, News & Magazines, and Photography. Then, they determined the minimum number of user reviews, which varied by category and ranged from 15,000 for news apps to 50,000 for media and entertainment apps.
The researchers then analyzed the quality of the apps with their Applause Analytics scores, which are defined by consumers and range from 0 to 100. If an app receives a score between 0 to 39, that indicates that customers are disappointed. A score of 40 to 59 means that customers tolerate the app because it serves a purpose. A score of 60 to 69 signifies an app that customers like. A score of 70 to 89 denotes an app that customers love. And a score of 90 to 100 indicates an app that “win[s] customers’ applause.”
The six apps that achieved “elite app quality status” were available on both Android and iOS. Photo Grid by Cheetah Mobile, Bible by LifeChurch.tv, Dictionary.com, PicsArt Photo Studio, Spotify Music, and Wattpad all earned average app quality scores above 70, with more than 100,000 user reviews. Eight apps achieved Android app quality scores of 85 or higher, and eight apps achieved iOS app quality scores of 86 or higher, indicating that the media and entertainment category has an even number of high performers among both Android and iOS apps.
ARC notes that three apps that are hugely popular on both Android and iOS — YouTube, Netflix, and Snapchat — need to live up to users’ higher expectations. These three saw low elegance, security, and privacy attribute scores on both platforms, and earned average app quality scores below 40 against more than 175,000 reviews. Additionally, six “bellwether” media apps performed poorly. Four of those were Android apps — The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, CNN, and Vine — while only two were iOS apps — iBooks by Apple and SoundCloud — indicating that there are more high-profile apps performing poorly on Android than on iOS.
ARC’s November report on the quality of travel apps available in the Google Play Store and the iOS App Store selected the top 49 travel brands (of which 31 qualified for inclusion in the app quality index) and found that five brands achieved an average app quality score above 66.5 against more than 20,000 ratings and reviews on both Android and iOS: Booking.com, TripAdvisor, Kayak, TripIt, and Hotels.com.
The four quality leaders for Android were Booking.com, TripAdvisor, Hotels.com, and Kayak, with an app quality score of more than 70 with over 10,000 reviews. (The report notes that TripIt and Agoda are on their way to achieving a similar threshold for app quality, but fall short on the number of user reviews and ratings.) The three app quality leaders for iOS were TripAdvisor, Kayak and TripIt, with scores of 70 or above and more than 10,000 reviews. Booking.com fell short of the requisite number of reviews with 7,662 reviews at the time the report was compiled.
Five airline brands — Southwest Airlines, American Airlines, JetBlue, Delta Air Lines, and United Airlines — along with car rental company Hertz were identified as “app quality laggards” by their customers on both Android and iOS. They earned poor app quality scores across approximately 2,000 app store reviews. Some of the lowest average scores with a lower bar of user review numbers across Android and iOS went to Frontier Airlines, Hilton, Avis, and Hyatt — illustrating that many popular apps’ quality leaves much to be desired on both Android and iOS.
Bigger differences emerged in ARC’s report on the quality of health and fitness apps in the iOS and Android app stores. While four popular apps available in the Google Play Store and the iOS App Store achieved “elite app quality status” — Calorie Counter by MyFitnessPal, Lose It! by FitNow, MapMyRun by MapMyFitness, and RunKeeper by FitnessKeeper — three apps achieved Android app quality scores of 80 or higher and five achieved the same score on iOS.
A majority of the health and fitness apps included in the report scored higher on iOS than on Android, with only a few showing higher scores on Android. (In the chart below, the red dots mark apps’ scores on iOS, the blue dots denote their scores on Android, and the black dots are an average of the two scores.)
What these reports aren’t designed to address is the quality of the less-popular apps submitted by smaller developers, simply because apps that don’t have a large number of app store reviews and ratings haven’t collected enough feedback for Applause to generate a score.
It’s also worth noting that Applause hasn’t published data on the average scores that apps achieve in comparable categories on Android and iOS — at least not since Dan Rowinski, then an editor at ReadWrite and now editor-in-chief for ARC at Applause, asked the company for a look at how popular app categories compared.
In January 2013, almost exactly two years ago, Rowinski learned that Applause’s data showed that iOS apps ranked higher in nine out of 11 top app categories. Android came out ahead in productivity and medical apps, and while the comparisons weren’t entirely equivalent — then as now, Applause has to map comparable app categories to each other to compare the data — the data showed that iOS apps ranked higher in quality as perceived by their users.
While ultimately we’d need more (and updated) data to determine whether, as a whole, iOS apps are really better than their Android counterparts, the process of quantifying app quality based on the reviews and ratings posted by users adds a more data-grounded perspective to the ongoing debate about whether iOS apps are better than Android apps. It will be interesting to see how app catalogs and quality evolve as both app stores, but especially the Google Play Store, experience remarkable growth.