Recently, I started looking for an alternative to Twitter (somehow, I suspect I’m not the only one) and landed on Mastodon. I like it there: most of the residents seem smart, friendly, and less likely to blow up than on Twitter. But after I started getting used to the interface, I realized that the mobile app, while usable, left something to be desired. So when I heard that there was a new one in beta called Ivory that, according to several accounts, provided a much better experience, I was eager to try it out.
And then I hit a familiar problem: Ivory is only available for iOS devices. I use Android.
Now, I’ve been using Android phones for a long time. I like Android, and I’m comfortable with it, but I’m not religious about it. I’ve got absolutely nothing against iOS and iPhones; I’ve got one on my desk that I use for work purposes. There are things I like better about iOS and things I like better about Android.
On the other hand, I have to admit that when I hear about an app that looks really easy and useful, go running to its site to see if I can try it out, and find that it’s only available for iOS, I can become, for a moment, something akin to an angry five-year-old. I want to play with this new toy, and I deeply resent anyone who says I can’t.
I want to play with this new toy, and I deeply resent anyone who says I can’t
I’m not the only one. There have been some fascinating conversations on Mastodon recently about this very subject. Quite a few Mastodon newbies, especially those who are used to the Twitter interface and Twitter’s third-party apps, are now looking for apps with which to refine the experience. And not unexpectedly, iOS is coming up with better apps than Android.
Why? Well, there are a variety of possibilities, many of which have been discussed in various places on Mastodon.
These apps are from iOS developers coming from Twitter
Now that Elon Musk has kicked third-party apps out of Twitter, developers who had created Twitter apps are, quite naturally, moving to Mastodon. For example, Tapbots, which is a two-person development firm that made Tweetbot and a couple of other apps for iOS and macOS, is now working on Ivory, which is currently being touted as the next big thing as far as Mastodon clients are concerned. Android is obviously not on their radar.
Developing apps for Android is more complicated
Apple sells only a few different phones each year, and they are built to accommodate its latest operating system. Android, on the other hand, is present on phones built by a variety of manufacturers for a variety of different phones — and often, the operating system has been strongly tweaked. For example, Samsung, which is responsible for a large number of the Android phones on the market, offers a version of Android whose interface and most basic features can be pretty different from those of Google’s version (which can be found on phones like the Pixel line).
It takes resources to deal with those differences — resources that individual developers and smaller companies may not have. JR Raphael, founder and publisher of Android Intelligence, says, “These days, it’s pretty rare to see any major company fail to release an app for both Android and iOS at the same time, with equal priorities. Where I think we see a noticeable contrast is with the smaller, startup-based services and more indie app developers. In those sorts of scenarios, where resources are clearly limited and a company has to make decisions about where its attention is most valuable, we do still see places sometimes focusing on iOS initially and then coming back to Android later, down the line — or sometimes even just focusing on iOS exclusively. It’s a frustrating reality and one I wish we could change.”
Apple users are more willing to spend on their stuff
There seems to be a perception that people who hang out in the Apple ecosystem are either more well-off or willing to spend more on their tech. Certainly, Apple is known for the higher prices of its hardware. And while Android’s top phones, such as those sold by Samsung or the latest Pixels, aren’t exactly bargain-basement devices, there are a lot of lower-cost Android phones on the market.
Okay, here are a few stats: according to Statista.com, Apple’s App Store picked up about $21.2 billion in the third quarter of 2022 compared to the Play Store’s $10.4 billion. Yet in its report of its first quarter earnings of 2023, Apple reported 2 billion active users, which is 1 billion less than the 3 billion active devices that Google reported in 2021. So unless Google lost over a billion users over the last year — which certainly would have made headlines — the App Store is making considerably more money while being used by considerably fewer people. A lot of that money certainly goes to games, but it’s still a larger pie being handed out to developers than on Android.
So that perception does have some facts propping it up. And that, together with the other complications, means that a smaller company or even an individual developer might find it makes more financial sense (whatever their personal preferences are) to create apps for iOS devices.
Apple has a more artistic interface
This is the one I found the most interesting: the assertion that Apple’s apps are simply more pleasing artistically and from a user experience standpoint. It’s one of the arguments I get often from Apple enthusiasts: that the interface of macOS and iOS applications are much more aesthetically pleasing and easier to work with than those written to suit Android’s OS.
For example, John Gruber, author of the Daring Fireball blog and host of The Talk Show With John Gruber, published a couple of well-written essays discussing this. I was especially caught by the entry “Making Our Hearts Sing,” the title of which is a quote from Steve Jobs’ last stage appearance. Gruber says, “What’s happened over the last decade or so, I think, is that rather than the two platforms reaching any sort of equilibrium, the cultural differences have instead grown because both users and developers have self-sorted. Those who see and value the artistic value in software and interface design have overwhelmingly wound up on iOS; those who don’t have wound up on Android.”
While there are a lot of things in my life that have made my heart sing, the UI of whatever tech device I’m using doesn’t have that effect
I do have to admit that, while there are a lot of things in my life that have made my heart sing — Jane Austen’s novel Persuasion and Leonard Bernstein’s musical Candide among them — the UI of whatever tech device I’m using doesn’t really have that particular effect. I might enjoy it, admire it, or even get excited by its potential, but that’s as far as it goes. Perhaps that’s Gruber’s point.
On the other hand, while I am acquainted with more than a few iOS and Android users who are highly enthusiastic about the superiority of their OSes, I know many others who simply use their particular devices because it’s what their children / friends / local salespersons recommended. And they’re perfectly happy as long as the things continue to work for them.
So where does that leave us Mastodon users? Well, on a personal level, it leaves me still looking for the ideal Android-friendly app. Currently, the one that’s recommended most often seems to be Tusky, but I’ve tried that, and while it looks like a decent app, it just doesn’t do it for me. There are several others out there, some still in development, so I’ll have to resume my hunt for an Android app that offers the native flexibility I’m used to combined with the artfulness of an iOS app. That (referencing Candide) would be, for me, the best of all possible worlds.