Hi Guys, it’s Chris. I haven’t written a blog post in ages. They’ve kept me locked in the basement like Milton Waddams, unwilling to let me out to see daylight until I finished X-Plane 10 Mobile. And they stole my #$%#^ stapler!
We recently released X-Plane 10 Mobile for iPhone/iPad and while the Apple users were ecstatic, some Android users were puzzled while others were frustrated.
“Will there be an android version?”
“When’s it coming to Android?”
“Where’s the Android version? 60% of all smartphones run on Android but I guess that Apple-Fan-Boys are more important in your company”
“Why do you guys constantly focus on iPhone first when most users are on Android?”
Before I get into the real point of the blog post, allow me to answer some of those questions. YES we are planning on shipping X-Plane 10 Mobile for Android. YES we have already begun development. We do not have a release date. We do not have any hints. The only thing that I can say, is that we want it out just as soon as you do. NO we do not view Android as a lesser/inferior platform…We value Android customers just as much as we value our iOS customers. A customer is a customer. I think we’ve demonstrated by supporting Windows, Mac and Linux all these years that we’re not trying to play favorites. We want everyone to be able to enjoy our products. BUT, that doesn’t mean that the costs of development and the speed and efficiency of development is equal on all platforms.
Historically, we’ve always developed for iOS first and then Android second. I’d like to be open an honest about our reasons and hope that even if you disagree with them, you’ll at least understand why we have historically developed for Apple first. I will warn you, everything I have to say is completely my opinion, my impression, my feeling based on my experiences. I’m going to sound a lot like an Apple “fanboy”. I will admit, I do have a high level of respect for Apple’s commitment to polish and detail, but I also own a dozen android devices and respect them for their cutting edge features, their openness and their friendliness to customization.
At the end of the day however, I’m paid to be efficient and thorough and my thoughts below explain why that means Apple has historically come first.
I will also warn you…I don’t want this blog post to turn into a flame war between Apple and Android users. We’re talking about phones here people, not religion. At the end of the day, they’re just small piles of plastic and silicon that let us surf the web, make phone calls and play games.
We Can’t Develop Apple and Android In Parallel
Sure, we do this on desktop by releasing Windows, Mac and Linux versions in unison 100% of the time. Developing for desktop is pretty different than developing for mobile. We use very few 3rd party frameworks on desktop and it’s an open environment. On a mobile phone, it’s a very closed environment. What this means is that developing Apple and Android in parallel requires a lot more effort than developing for Windows and Mac in parallel.
Can it be done? Absolutely! Plenty of companies are doing it. But they also have large teams with large expenses. We’re still a pretty small group of individuals and we like it that way. The tradeoff however is that we can only focus on one platform at a time.
One alternative that we could consider is delaying shipment of an Apple product until the Android version is done as well. That’s a loss for everyone. Apple customers lose out on having the latest software and Android customers may lose because…we don’t have the revenue coming in to support the Android development costs. That’s right…Apple sales get reinvested into the company to fund Android development!
As Ben mentioned earlier…Apple and Android mobile sales fund desktop development…and desktop development funds mobile development! This is a very important fact to remember. I’ll admit, we laugh and roll our eyes when desktop users complain about the company working on mobile products, and mobile users complain about the company working on desktop products….and android users complaining about us working on apple products and vice versa.
The company has found equilibrium creating both desktop and mobile products. There’s adequate revenue to fund adequate staffing to continue to develop both.
We Develop On Mac Hardware
This is no secret. It’s been this way since the company started. We just find Apple products allow us to be more productive and don’t get in our way.
Historically, Apple’s Mobile Platform Has Been More Mature
Apple had both a technological advantage as well as a time advantage over Android when they began.
Apple already had an Operating System, supporting frameworks and a development environment to leverage. Making mobile versions of those things required them to port existing, time-tested code to a new platform. From a stability standpoint, Apple had the advantage in that they already had the code, the engineers and the process in place to do this.
On the other hand, Google had to start from scratch. They had to put together a new team to create a new operating system to run new frameworks…and they had to create a set of tools for developers to use.
In addition to all of the technological advantages Apple had, they also had a head-start of well over a year. We were already selling X-Plane V9 for mobile before Android was even announced publicly.
That meant we were already established and familiar with the iOS platform as developers.
When I began the Android port for X-Plane V9, I had to pretty quickly put it down…and wait. Android at the time only supported Java apps. X-Plane is NOT a Java app. 99% of it is written in C/C++ and Android had absolutely no support at the time…and so we waited….and waited….and waited.
Finally, many months later, Android added their NDK which allowed us to have C/C++ support. But it was completely minimal. None of the standard libraries that we were used to using were available. This meant a lot of effort on our part to get anything done. If you’re not a developer, a reasonable metaphor might be a carpenter that’s trying to build a house, but he first has to build his own hammer, nails, square and saw because the tools he’s used to using don’t exist on this job.
Finally it came time to release V9 for Android. For iPhone/iPad, we uploaded our 400+mb app to their store and we were done. On Android however, the store had a limit of 25MB. So that meant we had to buy servers and write code to download the resources from a farm of servers. Again, this added more time and more complexity.
Apple Has Fewer Devices
For this latest release of X-Plane Mobile, we support iPhone 4S/5/5S/6/6+ as well as iPad 2/3/4/Air/Air2/Mini/Mini2 and iPod Touch 5. That’s 13 devices to my recollection. But it’s even simpler than that…because they all have the same GPU manufacturer, they all support the same PVR texture compression, and they all pretty much just work interchangeably from a development standpoint. The only major differences between them are the processor speeds and the screen resolutions. We can literally test on every single device and be sure that the app runs the way we expect it to.
As of the time of this writing, our X-Plane V9 is running on 7,072 devices. You read that right….SEVEN…..THOUSAND…..DIFFERENT……DEVICES. Each device has a different combination of CPU, GPU, screen size, screen density and drivers. We cannot possibly test them all. Admittedly, many of them “just work” and there are of course only a handful of CPU and GPU manufacturers to worry about…but at the very least, it means at least three different texture compression formats. PVR is proprietary and unless the mobile device has a PowerVR chipset, they’re not going to get PVR. So we have to support various formats. That requires three different versions of our app to be created and tested and distributed. That requires three different resource packages to be created and tested.
There’s just no way to have the same level of stability as we can have with the iPhone/iPad platform.
Apple Has Higher OS Upgrade Adoption
Without carriers and other manufacturers getting in the way, Apple can release a new OS with features and bug fixes, and we can be sure that they exist on the majority of the devices that we care about in no time. This means that if there’s a driver issue that needs fixing, it will make it out to the masses and eventually the problem is gone.
Android’s fragmentation has really hurt them in this area. We encountered several devices over the years that violated some OpenGL spec. We worked with the manufacturer to isolate the issue. They release a patch to fix the issue…and most users never had a way to get the patch because their phone carrier dropped support for that phone model.
Now the user’s stuck with an App that they paid for that doesn’t work and there’s nothing that we can do about it.
We like Apple’s Developer Tools Better
As I mentioned earlier, Apple’s developer IDE has been around for ages. We have access to various performance analyzers and can now even analyze an entire OpenGL frame, one draw call at a time. This means we can really tune the crap out of the app before we make it public. In addition, all of the tools come in a single package that just works out of the box. Apple has also always had a simulator that’s hardware accelerated. This means for a lot of things, i don’t need a device plugged into the computer to debug something.
Android’s solution was for less “out of the box” in that they were using various open-source pieces that all had to be installed and fit together just right. Android had an emulator that was not hardware accelerated. It took longer just to boot than it took me to find a phone in my house, get it, plug it in and push an app to it.
Honestly, I think both sets of IDEs are sorely lagging behind features that Microsoft’s Visual Studio has had since 2000, but I digress.
We develop for Apple first because it’s easier and faster for us. It allows us to get the product out the door, running as efficiently and as reliably as possible. When we port the app for Android development, we can be sure that most bugs that come up are specific to Android and are therefore much easier to resolve in a timely fashion.
We are not playing favorites. We have no personal issues with Android and have no personal ties to Apple. The day that Android becomes the faster and easier platform to develop for, it will be the one that we develop for first. It’s just a business decision!
In the meantime, Android users should remember that the way things are currently being done means that they sometimes have to wait longer for new updates, but the updates that they receive will likely be more stable as they’ve been tested harder.
I will also note that we are closing the time gap between iPhone and Android releases. In the past, we were over a year behind on the Android release…because Android didn’t exist. Now that it’s becoming more established, the gap should be shrinking more and more.