If your product is truly social then you can't ignore the largest platform out there: Android

By Carmel DeAmicis , written on November 4, 2013

From The News Desk

Android is less than twenty percent market share away from world domination. Recent stats from research firm Strategy Analytics show that 204.4 million Android phones shipped in quarter three. In other words, Android made up 81.3 percent of the smartphones shipped globally in 2013's third quarter.

New app JumpCam, a company that allows people to collaborate on videos together, felt the pressure. As of today, a mere month after launching its iOS app, it has introduced its Android app to the market. The JumpCam developers had to work long, hard hours to turn the app around so quickly, but they were afraid of what would happen if they waited longer. JumpCam users were trying to invite friends and family onto the platform, and getting frustrated when they realized anyone with an Android phone couldn't use it.

As an inherently social product, JumpCam would lose its viral edge if it didn't launch an Android app quickly.

It's a common problem developers face, now that Android is becoming more and more popular across the world. Waiting on creating an Android app slows down the traction and spread of your app's adoption. But at the same time, Android is much more difficult to build for than iOS, which is why most companies start with an iOS app first.

You don't want to get a bad rap by hastily pushing a poor Android app, but you also don't want to let too much time pass before getting your foothold in the Android market. How does a developer weigh making the decision between speed over quality or vice versa?

To JumpCam's founder, David Stewart, Android development speed is essential if your product is at its core a social product. "Take all the hype away. Ask yourself -- is this application really a social application?" Stewart says. "Some apps we think are social aren't. Instagram, for example. Even if you're the only person in the world on it there's a value proposition for using it because you can take pictures, put filters, and share them on Facebook."

That isn't the case with JumpCam. People use the app to thread together video clips from friends and family. Social is core to the experience, and the app would be worthless if you were the only one on it.

Stewart got the idea for JumpCam when he was putting together a well-wishes video for a friend's wedding. He had everyone who couldn't make it to the ceremony send a clip. "The hard part was knitting it together. I had to ask everyone to send them to Dropbox. Then I had to download them and put them together on iMovie," Stewart remembers. Having come from a video and social background -- previously working at YouTube and then as head of product at Yammer -- Stewart saw the market opportunity.

He raised money from Google Ventures and Trinity Ventures, and spent a year programming JumpCam. When his engineers finished, they had an app that would easily let people add to each other's videos.

During beta testing, JumpCam saw a range of unexpected user behavior. A band used it to crowdsource a music video. Strangers who followed each other on JumpCam made a video of "Billy the Banana" traveling different parts of the world. Others compiled clips of their Halloween costumes into a big Halloween showreel.

Throughout all of that, people were trying to invite their friends and family to use the app with them. "It became really apparent when we started talking to users that they needed an Android version," Stewart says. "People were coming to our landing page and we could tell they had Android phones." Not a fun experience for a developer -- watching your product take off, but then seeing potential new users dissipate the moment they arrive at your website.

Jumpcam developers got their butts in gear to finish the Android app quickly.

"If you're building a social app, it won't work if you're missing 2/3 of the market," Stewart says. He defines truly social as a product where part of the core experience revolves around interactions with your friends or the social graph. "If your product is truly social, then you can't ignore the largest platform out there -- Android."

But Android isn't the easiest thing in the world to build for. There's a lot of different types of phones running Android, with hardware tweaks that developers must code for. As a result it takes longer to build for Android, and it's more expensive because you need more engineers working on it.

Stewart says that in recent months Google is doing its best to make Android more appealing for companies. It has built out more robust developer tools, introduced better SDKs, and gotten more transparent with its application process.

Google will review your app and give you advice on what to update or change, offering information as to where Android is headed in the future so developers can keep that in mind. "It took us twice as long to build for Android than iOS," Stewart says. "But that's a huge improvement from before, when it took five times as long to build for Android than iOS."

JumCam didn't want to cut corners on Android. Even though they needed to move quickly, the developers spent time building the app from scratch. They used Android best practices and native features, like navigation with action bars at the top. Stewart considers JumpCam lucky, because the company had engineers that could code in Android and iOS.  "Really great mobile developers are going to be thinking of themselves as mobile developers first, not iOS developers or Android developers," Stewart says.

When asked whether companies should sacrifice quality for speed if they don't have enough fluent engineers to build quickly for Android, Stewart paused. "If your product requires that social functionality as its value proposition to users, then you have no choice. You really have to have Android developed at the same time or soon after iOS."

But he added that he doesn't think it's ever a good idea to release a bad application. You only have one chance to make a good impression with users, and Google punishes apps with poor reviews.

So, when caught between a rock and a hard place, what's a developer to do?

Stewart recommends either releasing a simpler version of your Android app, enough to onboard customers and do core functionalities, but without all the bells and whistles. Or, be very careful and plan ahead. If you suspect your product will only be useful to people if their friends and family are on it, then start working on your Android app in advance of releasing the iOS version.

"Learning about the importance of Android has been critical for us," Stewart says.

[Image via: Thinkstock]