Which OS should devs build mobile apps for? - Mixpanel
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Which OS should devs build mobile apps for?

Last edited: Aug 22, 2022 Published: Feb 18, 2014
Mixpanel Team

As Android and iOS duke it out for dominance in the United States, it’s easy to forget that the fight to the top is an international one. But for app developers, especially those looking to expand beyond the stateside (and English-speaking) market, knowing where and how to localize is crucial.

We took a look at the countries generating the most data from mobile apps, and then removed all countries where English is the primary language. The results surprised us: first and foremost, of all the mobile data generated by the 15 most active countries, 64% came from Android devices. Once we cracked apart those 15, clear loyalties began to emerge.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, Spanish-speaking countries generate the most significant chunk of data; trailing by a thin margin are smartphone users in Brazil, where, of course, the most common language is Portuguese. What’s interesting about these two leaders is their clear and consistent preference for Android: 74% of the data coming out of Spanish-speaking countries is generated by Android, as is 74% of data from Brazil.

We also took a look at smartphone penetration in the top data-generative, Spanish-speaking countries (Chile, Mexico, and Spain), and ran that against the respective percentages of English-speakers in each country. Here’s what we found: 40% of people in the top three Spanish-speaking countries own smartphones, but only 36% speak English. With that in mind, 14% of people who live in Spanish-speaking countries both speak English and own smartphones.

What do all these numbers mean? They only serve to underscore our suspicions that the vector for Android developers points straight to Spanish-language apps. (Maybe it’s not that surprising, given that Spanish is the world’s second most spoken language – but we prefer to be both intuitive and data-driven when it comes to such decisions.)

The other opportunity is, of course, China: of smartphone holders in the top 15 countries, 17% (roughly 632 million people) are in China. This is a wise marketplace for Android developers to chase after, given that the characters of the Chinese alphabet work best on a slightly larger screen. It’s a bit surprising that China doesn’t represent a larger slice of the pie, given that Mandarin has the largest number of native speakers in the world, but this is most likely an economic issue.

While only 36% of the overall data is generated by devices running iOS, it’s also coming from only three countries: France, Japan, and the Netherlands. Given the predominance of iOS in English-speaking countries (the UK, Australia, and Canada all show a preference for iOS), it’s no surprise that in the Netherlands, 90% of the population speaks English. While dismissing these as wealthier countries would be relatively easy, here’s another interesting factoid to confound that: of the ten countries with the largest GDP (excluding the US and the EU, these are China, India, Japan, Germany, Russia, Brazil, United Kingdom, France, Italy and Mexico), 70% are heavily Android-leaning.

For the most part, nations that display a proclivity for Android or iOS do so wholeheartedly: with the exception of Thailand, where the preference for Android seems to be a nearly indifferent one, countries that are in one camp or the other seem to be there in full force. There are, of course, some countries that seem open to persuasion, such as France, Italy, Germany and the Netherlands. These are fragilely balanced on one side of the fence, and may represent marketplaces that are more susceptible to lively competition. (The Netherlands and France, in particular, seem ripe for this, given that they generate a robust amount of data and aren’t deeply wedded to iOS just yet.)

So what’s the takeaway? While the Android marketplace is loyal and more diverse, it’s also more fragmented, in terms of language, location, and economic clout. It’s also not completely intuitive: one might expect that native Hindi speakers would be a larger target demographic, given the span of India (and the fact that it is the fourth-most commonly spoken language), but it’s certainly underrepresented in terms of app-generated data.

But iOS/Android can’t be split cleanly across geographic, economic, or linguistic lines: clearly the preference for one or the other is based on a delicate combination of social, cultural and economic factors. Whether a device is a status symbol, for example, is something that can’t be standardized. Spanish-language apps are a huge opportunity, especially if you’re an Android developer. Beyond that, if you’re the type to optimize for a diverse, widespread, and loyal audience, there’s a very compelling argument to be made for Android. One thing remains consistent: regardless of what you’re after and how you want to build out your userbase, the best thing to do is tap into your data. Your users will always be reliable mapmakers; odds are they’re already charting the course for you.

If you’re interested in more data from Mixpanel, check out our Trends project: https://mixpanel.com/trends/. For more information about Mixpanel, drop us a line at support@mixpanel.com.

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