Different phones. Do they need different apps?

Apart from some subtle differences such as which has a better camera and so on, for the user, the major brands of smartphones and tablets are essentially the same. However, different brands are built on different platforms, i.e. different phones, different platforms. An app’s platform isn’t a physical thing like a scaffold; it’s part of the software and affects what your app can do and how it does it. This makes the choice of platform central to the development of your app.

Smartphone and tablet brands

The three-main smartphone and tablet brands in Australia and their associated platforms are:

  • iPhone (or iPad)
    – uses the iOS platform, an operating system used for mobile devices, manufactured by Apple Inc.
  • Samsung
    – uses the Android platform, an open source operating system.
  • Nokia and Microsoft
    – uses the Windows operating system.

Operating System (OS)

The OS supports the smartphone’s (computer’s) most basic functions. Without it, the phone can’t do anything. Among other things, the OS is needed to run apps.

The most important thing you need to know when deciding about platforms, is that an app built for one platform (with a specific OS) cannot be used on a device using a different platform. If you want your app to work with multiple devices you may need to develop a different version for each platform and device. This is not intended to scare you off developing an app, making you think it will take twice the work or double the money – most likely, it will not – but I want to be sure you are properly informed and know the right questions to ask your developer.

You will also need to take your platform into consideration when you think about how you will distribute your app; who will be using it and what sort of smartphone or tablet they own. Users of iPhone and Android have different spending habits, demographics and geographic backgrounds. These may all affect the platform you choose and who you want to host your app.

If you are building an app for a healthcare outcome and not merely looking to create an app that will make a billion dollars, it’s not critical that you cover every possible combination of device and operating system – just do the best you can. If you aren’t sure which device or platform your patients will most likely use, ask them – it’s really that simple. Do a short survey by drawing up a simple list of options and tick off the one they use. If they use two devices, then tick off two squares. I have created a simple template, listing the main devices and platforms, for you to use, if you wish.

Link to template

In choosing a platform for your app, there are further considerations beyond who uses what and why. If you compare apps on the App Store (Apple) and Google Play (Android), you will generally find that Apple apps tend to be sleeker and have a higher design quality. That’s because these apps have to conform to Apple’s ‘Human Interface Guidelines’. These guidelines walk a developer through the process of making a highly intuitive app experience and ensure a standard look and feel, all with the goal of improving the experience of the user. Android and Microsoft have also developed their own set of design guidelines, although they are not as prescriptive as Apple’s. If you want your app to be accepted by Apple, you’ll need to adhere closely to their Human Interface Guidelines. You don’t need to know all the ins and outs (just being familiar with them will help), but make sure your app developer does.

You should also note that Android is an open source OS, which means that anyone can use it and modify it. As a result, many brands do. So, when developing for the Android OS, your app will be available on devices manufactured by many different brands, whereas if you develop an app on the Apple OS you are dealing with just one brand – Apple – and your app can only be used on Apple devices. In fact, in 2012 there were about 4,000 unique devices running on the Android OS, manufactured by around 600 different companies. In 2013, the number was around 12,000 devices. This means you (or your developer) may have to test on many more devices and size screens when developing an Android app.

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