Lately there have been headlines such as the one today by Mashable touting “Android Wins in the U.S.  Smartphone Wars“. According to Neilson the Android OS was installed on 29% of the post-paid smartphones in the US between November 2010 and February 2011, with iOS and RIM devices at 27% each.  Given these type of headlines, last week in a post entitled, “Museums vs Android“, Vincent Roman asked, why the dearth of museum apps for Android? Vincent and I have been corresponding over this for a bit now as I have been looking to add more information about Android apps to Museums2Go.  Vincent will soon be contributing reviews of Android apps here.  But first Vincent and I wanted to get as accurate a picture as we could on the state of museum apps with respect to these two mobile OS’s. 

As of March 2, I’ve identified 181 iPhone apps associated with museums and cultural institutions and only 34 such Android apps (in English and available in the U.S.). I double checked each of the 181 iPhone apps to see if there was an equivalent Android app in the Android Market and found only 31 such apps. There are three Android muesum apps not available on the iPhone (Racing Museum, Search the Collections, and Zeum USSF).  Additionally Vincent aided in scouring the Android Market for museum apps, double checking every nook and cranny of the Android Market. In short this means there are more than five times as many iPhone apps as Android apps for museums and cultural institutions. That’s the easy part to uncover. A little trickier would be the why.

Let me state that I have no interest in pushing one mobile OS over another. Or pushing native apps over web apps. (Full disclosure-I worked for Apple for almost ten years). What  I’m interested in is providing the best mobile experience for museum and cultural institutions and to the most owners of mobile devices.  Whichever means can achieve this goal while maintaining a quality experience then so be it. Having said that though it is an interesting question to ask, why the Android museum app gap?

Rather than this being a reflection of how cultural institutions are exhibiting a bias I think this app gap is more reflective
of the state of the Android Market versus Apple’s App Store. First, Google has already indicated their unhappiness with the state of Android app sales. Second, when you compare the number of developers for each OS you see that between August 2010 and February 2011 the Apple App Store attracted 24K versus the Android Market attracting just over 4K developers. One frequently reads of Android developers being frustrated with the increasing fragmentation of the Android market.  With one stating that frankly, “Being an Android developer is generally not a lucrative undertaking” .  Whereas yesterday Apple announced that developers have earned $2 billion from Apple’s App Store. As such there is a wide discrepancy overall in the number of apps available on the App Store (350,000) versus the Android Market (100,000).  While the gap in museum apps between the OS’s is a bit larger (5X vs 3.5X) it isn’t out of line with the overall mobile marketplace for smartphone apps.  A gap which is underscored most dramatically in the 82% market share (at $1.8 billion) the Apple App store has for paid apps versus the 4.7% market share (at $102 million) which the Android Market has. Even Angry Birds has a substantial gap between the 12 million iPhone users and the 5 million Android users. And if they can’t close that gap with headlines about Android’s leading market share then who can?

Furthermore, developers have been complaining about how “the Android Market app is buggy” and that processing payments is not a simple affair (in contrast to the App Store). One blogger continues the list of Android developer frustrations noting that “While iPhone apps are backward compatible with all previous devices, the Android scenery is very fragmented. An Android developer that wants to make a universally compatible app would have to test it on more than 200 devices. Add to this the fact that Android devices are available in only 32 countries, while the iPhone can be bought in 90, the winner of the money race appears clear for now”.

In light of the above the real question may be is the Android Market ready for museums to devote scarce resources to developing native apps for at present. Or this all may be as Vincent later notes an argument for developing web apps rather than native apps.  As I stated earlier I’m not trying to push one mobile OS over another in this post only to note that I don’t think that Android’s museum app gap is reflective of any greater bias on the part of museums than that of the broader mobile app marketplace.