Why developers focus on 'loser' iOS over 'winner' Android

Back in the 1990s Linux creator Linus Torvalds used to joke that his ultimate aim was “total world domination.” In many respects, Linux has achieved this goal, with dominant or absolutely crushing market share in everything from high-performance computing to enterprise servers to cloud servers to mobile devices.

In this last category, however, the Linux bandwagon has largely come off the rails. Sure, Linux (as the underpinning of Android) now claims 86 percent global market share in the all-important smartphone market. Unfortunately, that outsized market penetration has completely failed to translate into the kind of ecosystem benefits that Apple enjoys with its iOS. And that means mobile app developers focus on iOS, not Android.

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Android “won,” but at what cost?

Worried that Apple would own the growing smartphone market, Google bought Andy Rubin’s Android, Inc. in 2005 and shipped Android in 2007, with the first Android-based device hitting the market in 2008. Roughly a decade later, Android is everywhere; recent Gartner data shows that 85.9 percent of smartphones sold globally in 2017 ran Android, versus 14.0 percent running iOS.

In fact, Android keeps gaining market share, climbing 1.1 percent over the past year. All told, Android’s active installed base tops 2 billion users now. This is good news for Google, which gets to have its eponymous search engine on most Android devices (China, a large Android market, blocks Google services). But it’s not nearly as good as it should be for Google or, really, for anyone, including consumers.

In other markets, like enterprise servers, the rising tide of Linux has lifted virtually all boats. Server manufacturers make money, as do software companies. Although Red Hat, the enterprise standard for Linux, makes billions, the ecosystem around Red Hat Enterprise Linux and its competitors makes hundreds of billions.

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