You can’t choose between Android and iOS without taking Google Play and the App Store into account. They’re the largest mobile marketplaces on the planet, and they both have their strengths and weaknesses — especially when it comes to control.
Apple has strict App Store guidelines, and every title is tested by a human before being approved. In comparison, Google is happy to let most things fly — so long as it’s not offensive or harmful — which gives us access to things like emulators and file downloaders that aren’t available on other platforms.
But is “open” really better, and could Apple benefit from loosening its grip on the App Store?
Join us in this week’s Friday Night Fight between Cult of Android and Cult of Mac as we battle it out over that very question.
Killian Bell (Writer, Cult of Android): One of the reasons why lots of people choose Android over iOS is its “openness.” Not only does the platform itself provide us with more freedom to do different things Apple wouldn’t allow, but the Google Play Store offers a whole host of Android apps that iOS users can’t have.
I see this as a good thing. I love playing old Nintendo games on my Android using an emulator, and having access to all kinds of customization apps that allow me to tweak and modify different things. And I appreciate that I don’t have to use unofficial hacks to get access to these things.
Do you think that Apple could benefit — and attract even more users from Android — by making the App Store more open?
Luke Dormehl (Writer, Cult of Mac): In short, the answer is no. I think for the majority of users the fact that the iOS App Store is “closed” — if you want to put it that way — is a major plus.
There are less security concerns, fewer ripoff apps, a lot less clones, and generally just a sense that the whole enterprise is better regulated, managed, and of higher quality. You don’t get scenarios like Android’s Virus Shield app debacle, where the #1 paid app racks up 10,000 downloads and a 4.7 star rating before everyone works out it’s a total scam that does nothing. If that app had been submitted to Apple, it would’ve never made it past the front door.
There’s plenty of evidence that even Google agrees with Apple, too — even if they’ve had less success at implementing Apple’s approach. Wasn’t it late last year that Google announced that, for the first time, it was going to be using humans as part of the review process for the Google Play Store? Ultimately, Apple’s model of business works out better for both users and developers.
Besides, the way you frame your point makes it sound like there’s no way you can modify your iPhone because of Apple’s “closed” approach to the App Store. In reality, the iOS jailbreak community is one of the most vibrant in existence — so what’s the problem?
KB: Before I move onto your concerns with the Play Store, let’s take jailbreaking out of the equation away. Yes, the community is vibrant and thriving, but in reality, only a tiny percentage of iOS users actually bother to jailbreak their devices. Also, I specifically said that Android allows access to emulators, tweaks, and more without unofficial hacks — which is what jailbreaking is.
As for your security concerns, you do have a point… kind of. Malware and malicious apps have made their way into the Play Store, and they have become a problem for some users — but nowhere near as much of a problem as the antivirus vendors make out. It’s not difficult to avoid dodgy applications, and as you mentioned, Google has already begun screening apps to prevent things like this from being published. Android also has a feature built-in that continually scans all apps you have installed to determine whether any of them are dangerous.
I’m not saying malware isn’t a concern anymore, but Google is taking steps to prevent it. And as long as you don’t install untrusted apps from unknown sources, you shouldn’t run into any problems.
I have to concede that there is a problem with ripoffs and clones, but this is by no means exclusive to the Play Store; iOS has them, too — remember how many Flappy Bird clones popped up? I will admit, however, that this certainly seems to be a bigger problem on Android, and Google could do more to keep clones out.
But I still think Google is closer to an ideal middle ground. It it could perhaps become a little stricter and rule out malware and ripoffs entirely — while still allowing emulators, torrent downloaders, and customization apps, would that not be perfect for everyone?
LD: Let me start by saying that, sure, I can see your point with jailbreaking. If we’re talking about official App Stores only, then that doesn’t count. But I’m saying it’s disingenuous to claim it’s not a possibility for the 5 percent of iPhone users who do want that kind of freedom.
Without trying to be pretentious about it, though, ultimately what we’re talking about are two separate ideological positions: open vs. closed. You’re arguing for the former, and I’m arguing for the latter. Google has traditionally been very open, and is now starting to become more closed in an attempt to follow Apple’s example. Apple has long been closed in all sorts of ways, and is becoming a bit more open as a company when it comes to interviews, engaging with developers more than previously, and that sort of thing. Where Apple hasn’t compromised, however, is with its control of the App Store. And why would it?
Sure, there have been missteps along the way when Apple’s been premature in banning certain apps — and maybe a bit more transparency about the system would be a positive for devs — but it’s hard to disagree with the end result. Users get a better experience, developers make more money.
With that in mind, give me an example of a high quality, legal app Apple simply wouldn’t allow on the App Store. Because it seems to me that, so long as you’re willing to play by Apple’s rules, it’ll pay off to go with iOS every time. And that’s the reason why whenever you hear about a new company setting out to create an app store — as Oculus is doing right now, for example — it’s the iOS App Store they reference as the ideal.
KB: I didn’t claim it wasn’t possible; I know iOS users can do more if they jailbreak — and I know you can get emulators and other unauthorized apps without jailbreaking using some workarounds. But again, we’re talking about Google’s approach to selling apps vs. Apple’s — not what third parties bring.
Emulators and even torrent downloaders are perfectly legal. People may use them for illegal things, but the apps themselves aren’t a problem — which is why I’ve never really understood why Apple doesn’t allow them. I can illegally stream movies and TV shows in Safari if I want to, so should Apple block browsers, too?
I think Apple would attract a lot of long-time Android users if apps like those I’ve already mentioned were available on iOS as standard, and that’s why I think its control over the App Store could be just a little bit looser. It’s frustrating that I can’t get certain things on my iPhone unless I jailbreak or use third-party hacks, which then disappear if I update or restore my device.
I should also add that many developers have been critical of Apple’s approach, so it’s not exactly perfect for them, either. It has rejected apps for trivial reasons before, while allowing others that are similar. It recently banned a Mario-style platformer, yet the App Store is littered with clones of other popular games.
LD: So you’re arguing that Apple should be more closed? Because that’s what it sounds like. Look, the App Store is growing by 1,000 apps per day. It relies on a team of human curators to approve or reject each app. Some of the criteria about what’s offensive and what’s not is not only subjective, it changes depending on real world events.
If you’re talking about an App Store with upwards of 1 million apps, it’s no surprise that Apple would make the occasional mistake — whether it’s banning something prematurely, or allowing cloned or ripoff apps into the App Store. But those problems are nothing compared to what Google faces, which is why Google Play is trying to be more like Apple.
At the end of the day, you talk about appealing to Android users. I’d argue that Apple is doing a great job of this through innovation without compromizing its approach to the App Store. Most users — not all, but most — seem more than happy with the way Apple runs things with the App Store. If there was a major backlash, I’m sure Apple would consider a change. But there hasn’t been, and there won’t be.
Every decision Apple takes is about the user experience. And you know what? The Apple Store is just a better user experience than the Google Play Store. Plain and simple. Are there things to constantly be aware of which might need tweaking? Of course, that’s the nature of what Apple’s doing with its app ecosystem.
But having Apple let borderline-illegal streaming apps and game emulators available for download, and potentially having Apple take a financial cut of these along the way, certainly isn’t one of them.
KB: How am I calling for it to be more closed?
It’s not just about appealing to new users. Apple has long been fighting to prevent jailbreaking; every time it releases a big iOS update, it fixes the exploits that allowed the most recent jailbreak, forcing hackers to find new ones. But if it just allowed emulators and other apps of that nature, maybe people wouldn’t want to jailbreak so much.
I’m not saying the App Store is bad at all, and I appreciate that it offers a good experience overall — though I wouldn’t exactly say it’s any better than that Google Play offers. What I am saying is, I don’t think anyone would really object to a more open approach — so long as it didn’t open the door to malicious apps.
According to the latest data from App Annie, the App Store continues to rake in more revenue than Google Play, and that’s hardly surprising given that Android has a larger number of free apps. But the Play Store sees almost twice as many downloads.
That suggests to me that the Play Store is a much more attractive place for users.
LD: I guess we’ll leave it up to the readers to decide. But one last point to make on the subject, which is that I think you’re underestimating just how crucial Apple’s approach to the App Store was in getting the idea of mobile apps accepted by a wide audience.
If you go right back to the first patents for a mobile app store — and this was Qualcomm, not Apple — the big concern was about how do you make this a secure experience for users, because without that you’re never going to make downloading software for your mobile device into something everybody does. Apple took those ideas about certification and security, and added the idea of having humans to make sure the ham-to-spam ratio was heavily weighted toward high quality apps.
Today, my grandma has an iPhone and can download apps without problem. She doesn’t have to worry about clones, security, or anything like that. And while Google may have had a bit of success with its Google Play Store, I think the fact we’re even debating this issue has a whole lot to do with Apple’s high quality example in the beginning. It’s a strategy that continues to pay off. Case closed.
Friday Night Fights is a series of weekly death matches between two no-mercy brawlers who will fight to the death — or at least agree to disagree — about which is better: Apple or Google, iOS or Android?