The Android Tax

Why Android Apps Are More Expensive To Build

Ryan Daulton
Red Shepard Blog


You may be surprised that with all the advancements in mobile computing, Android apps are still much harder, more expensive, and more time consuming to build. To some, this might not make sense. So let’s break it down…

Why So Expensive?

As of 2015, there were over 1,300 companies that manufactured Android compatible devices. And with Android being ‘open sourced’, each company has the freedom to manipulate and customize the operating system to their liking. This means that from each company, there can be different screen layouts, design adoption, custom animations, menus, and interaction with the device hardware itself.

From these 1,300 brands, there are now over 24,000 device variations that run some unknown flavor of the Android operating system. Each device slightly different in hardware; different screen sizes, camera capabilities, phone speakers, chip quality, graphics rendering, processing speed, and more.

Therefore, in developing an Android app, you must do your best to account for this variability and test against it. This means more bugs, more testing hours, and more headaches.

Android Version Adoption Is Low

On top of that, as of August 2018 Android Nougat was the most widely used version of Android, running on 30.8% of all Android devices, with Android Lollipop coming in next, running on 22.7% of devices… but Android Nougat was released in August of 2016!

Android release adoption from 2009–2017

What does this tell you? It means Android developers have to account for:

1. Hundreds of thousands of tiny variations in an open source software platform running on thousands of different device configurations.

2. A user base that does not upgrade their devices to the latest software in order to take advantage of bug fixes and feature enhancements.

The user base is fragmented between 8 previous Android releases. That’s a lot of variability.

Compare Androids to Apples

With iPhones and Apple devices, there is 1 manufacturer: Apple. There is 1 closed operating system: iOS. There are 7 supported mobile devices and 4 supported tablets. Yet more impressively, as of August 2018, 85% of all iOS devices are running iOS 11, the latest operating system. Then comes 33% of users on iOS 10.

So what does this tell you? Well, for one — Apple users reliably update their operating systems to the latest release. Device variability between users is low. And every device is built by one singular brand, making their hardware capabilities predictable and consistent.

Hopefully this helps to illustrate why:

Android apps are typically 40% more expensive to build than iOS apps.

The Developer Perspective

Development teams have to deal with variability using care and devotion. Even the smallest feature changes or interface upgrades from OS versions can cause major headaches.

For example, when Apple introduced Large Titles for iOS apps, many developers scrambled to ensure that the decreased space for their app content did not throw off their screen layouts for things like animation start/stop positions, or the height of the list items in some screens.

For Android, problems like these are ever persistent. You must design and build your apps in a way that is modular and general enough to work between 20,000+ devices and screen sizes. Yet in order to compete in today’s market, they also need to be catered and specially designed to use new features and maximize the abilities of the device they run on.

It’s a difficult balance, and the work developers put in to ensure users have a smooth experience, regardless of their device, often goes unnoticed.

How It Affects Your Business

Because of this, we almost always recommend beginning your product as an iOS app first, then move into the Android platform. If your iOS application begins to see some success and user growth, perhaps then the investment into an Android platform is worth consideration. Obviously, this differs from business to business, but we see this as a pretty common trend.