Discovery, Distribute, Entrepreneurship

“I want to fail on both iOS and Android”

What I hear when a scrappy first-time appreneur insists on launching a cross-platform app

I talk to hundreds of mobile enthusiasts every year. One specific variety is the first time entrepreneur with an interesting app idea looking for help to create his mobile app. He is sure of impending success and wants to launch for both iOS and Android users from day 1. Since both iOS and Android user community is huge, he doesn’t want to miss out either one.

He isn’t a developer (mobile or otherwise), nor has he created a successful app with external help before. However, in his research he has read about the magic of cross-platform frameworks such as Phonegap, Sencha, etc. He is enamored of the simplicity of the build-once-launch-everywhere approach suggested by these platforms. If only he could find somebody to build his sure-fire idea into a mobile app using, say, Phonegap, he would launch on both Android and iOS App Stores in one go. And, hopefully, conquer both audiences.

What’s wrong with this approach?

In most cases, it is a recipe for failure. Cross-platform frameworks have their place, but they are not very suitable for launching a first app across multiple platforms by a scrappy entrepreneur. The fundamental reasons are two-fold:

  • You don’t need to launch on both platforms. At the nascent stage, you want to find some audience. Both Android and iOS have hundreds of millions of users each, so you have a large playground on either one to test your ideas and experiment. If you can find traction on one platform, you can always later launch on the other. Your orientation at this stage should be to learn as much as you can about real user behavior of your early adopters. By launching on both platforms, you can’t learn significantly more about users. Instead, your focus should be to incorporate the right analytics and other intelligence into your app and put out a polished first version. All of this takes time and resources.
  • Cross-platform frameworks are not magic. These frameworks have to handle different device form factors and iOS/Android version diversity under the hood. That is a constant battle for these frameworks, as having the same code-base produce a great experience on the growing-by-the-day diversity of devices is very hard. You can quickly get to 70% quality, but as most people find in the middle of development cycle, taking that to 100% quality app with native app feel on both iOS and Android is often very hard, time consuming and frequently infeasible. All this ends up taking a lot of time and consequently money. You will need to spend significantly more than what it would cost to build native app on one platform, and you will end up with an app tha has suboptimal experience for both Android and iOS users.

Bigger publishers realize these factors, and you will find them releasing new apps on one platform first, say iOS. And if there is traction and buzz around their app, their users automatically demand an Android version.

As a first time scrappy entrepreneur, you have limited resources. Don’t fight the cross-platform battle. Save your energy and resources to focus on your idea and early users, to learn and iterate and to creatively market to your intended audience. Without that you are bound to fail on both platforms.

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