What is a platform without its apps? Third-party apps have become the life blood of mobile operating systems. They’re the reason why iOS and Android have absolutely dominated the competition, and the reason why BlackBerry and Windows Phone can’t catch up. In case you haven’t noticed, 2013 is the year of good Android app design. Or at least it was shaping up to be.
At Google I/O this year, Google introduced some new app design guidelines, like the navigation drawer. The navigation drawer isn’t necessarily new, but some rules, including how the navigation drawer should operate and how it should be represented, were firmly solidified this year. Already, a handful of popular Android apps have implemented these new rules, keeping them up-to-date with Google’s own apps.
This is the first time we’ve seen developers keeping up so quickly with Google. When Holo was first introduced, developers were slow to adopt the design. Strict design guidelines introduced with Android 4.0, heavy usage from users on modern Android and surges in market share have been attributed as reasons why Android apps have finally started to look good and adhere to a common design language. Developers finally had a style guide to look at and lots of users to implement that style for. But there’s another reason, and it doesn’t get brought up much. And that reason is directly related to iOS.
For years now, iOS has been utilizing a well-established design language. The user interface of iOS apps are always being tweaked, like with every platform, but for the most part long-standing apps in the App Store have been using the same basic design for nearly five years now. That gave companies the chance to neglect iOS apps and focus on Android. With iOS 7, all of that is thrown out the window.
iOS 7 is a lot more than a simple redesign; there are new rules that govern how everything functions. Nearly everything is different. iOS 7 is similar to Ice Cream Sandwich in a lot of ways, but may be even more of a drastic change. Nearly every single iOS app is going to require a massive redesign, which could have developers placing Android on the back burner.
It’s no secret that companies tend to favor building for iOS. For whatever reason, whether it’s due to limited hardware options or high adoption rates of current firmware versions, multi-platform apps always seem to come to iOS first. And sometimes, like with Vine, even when apps finally do come to Android, they are missing features and barely work. There are exceptions, but for the most part, they’re limited. You can look at it however you want. But from the outside, as an app consumer, iOS seems to get special treatment. There’s a good chance that special treatment is going to be extra apparent while companies redesign for iOS 7.
Anyone who has an app for iOS 7 ready to go this fall is going to have a leg up on the competition. Consumers will flock to their app. Apple will feature them in the App Store and in commercials. No developer is going to be willing to risk that. They’re going to fight for that. They’re going to place all of their focus on that. Unless companies have teams assembled just to concentrate on Android, which many do now, Android apps are going to be pushed aside for awhile.
That doesn’t mean that in a business sense, Android will suffer. In fact, I’d venture to guess it won’t really monetarily hurt Android at all. Only a very small portion of the app consuming population will even care about this kind of stuff. But for those of us who have been excited over every up-to-date Holo Android app, well, it might be a boring year. Might.
This could be the year we finally see just how committed developers are to Android. Despite iOS seeing a massive redesign, Android app development could carry on as normal. If that happens, that’s a huge story in itself. I still remember a time when a good portion of the most popular apps weren’t even on Android. Those days are clearly long gone, but where developers place focus with iOS 7 launching in the fall will show us just how far we’ve come.