Which mobile platform should web3 developers build on: iOS, Android, or Solana Mobile?

Published December 5, 2022

An iPhone, Android phone, and Saga (Solana Mobile) phone.
Profile picture of author Long Tran

Long Tran

Co-founder & CEO

Our previous blog post talked about the challenges of building mobile apps for web3. Still, the vast majority of web3 developers told us that they are very determined to build on mobile. This leads to a very important question for engineers looking to create web3 mobile apps: Which mobile platform to build on?

In this post, we analyze the pros and cons of building web3 apps on iOS, Android, and Solana Mobile. Our goal is to suggest a set of well-defined, insightful, and relevant criteria for web3 developers to decide between these platforms.

iOS: High-value network, but stringent gatekeeping

iPhone displaying the Ethereum icon, on a table with notebooks, plants, and a pen

Building web3 apps on iPhone.

The iOS mobile stack provides a very interesting contrast for web3. On one hand, Apple is notoriously difficult about crypto features (see our previous blog post). The App Store’s review process is both stringent and opaque, making it very difficult for web3 teams to navigate. On the other hand, the Apple ecosystem is home to the most valuable and high-spending user base in mobile and offers strong privacy and security features.

In our view, there are three key benefits of developing web3 apps on iOS: 1) monetization, 2) tooling, and 3) security.

  • Significant monetization opportunities: Due to Apple’s market positioning, its user base has relatively high income and loyalty, with very strong presence in North America and Europe. Studies after studies have shown that iOS users spend much more than Android users. In 2021, iOS users account for only 30% of app downloads but 66% of mobile app revenue (source). This implies that on average, an iOS user outspends an Android user by 4-5 times.
  • Stable and mature developer tools and services: iOS is a well-established and mature platform, with a range of tools and services for developers to reliably build, test, and distribute apps. For example, with the Xcode environment, iOS developers can enjoy a unified, consistent app development experience instead of patching together disparate tools. Xcode is also reasonably flexible, supporting a wide variety of languages, including Objective-C, Swift, Java, Python, Ruby, etc.
  • Strong user privacy and security features: Apple has long portrayed itself as a champion of privacy and security. This strategy is evident in many ways, from the App Tracking Transparency, which requires apps to explicitly ask users for tracking permission, to iCloud’s end-to-end encryption. Even the App Store’s restrictive app review can be viewed in this light, as it does discourage many spammy apps and create a safe environment for users. We see that this emphasis both aligns with crypto’s ethos and web3’s high requirement for security.

However, there are also important downsides to developing on iOS:

  • Apple’s reluctance to web3: By and large, iOS remains a more unfriendly environment to crypto than Android is. Apple’s policies limit cryptocurrency trading to only apps made by licensed exchanges and financial institutions, and mandate at least a 15% revenue cut on NFT transactions. Most recently, Coinbase’s app update was blocked, because Apple argues that the gas fees of NFT transactions have to be paid via in-app purchase (source). This attitude results in a two-fold effect: web3 developers are discouraged from building iOS apps, while iOS developers fear adding crypto features may lead to app removal.
  • Smaller, less global user base compared to Android: The high price points of the iPhone, iPad, and Apple Watch mean that they are unaffordable to the vast majority of mobile users, especially in developing countries. In important web3 markets such as Brazil, India, and Vietnam, Android dominates with 80%+ market share. This creates a real dilemma for iOS developers, having to manage crypto’s promise of inclusivity against Apple’s relatively exclusive user segment.
  • Security quirks: The close nature of the iOS ecosystem stands opposite to crypto’s vision of accessibility and openness. But beyond philosophical issues, the iOS mobile stack also introduces several roadblocks for web3 developers. For instance, Apple tends to curb the use of wallet authentication as the sole authentication method. In other words, developers need to maintain a traditional login system and add additional wallet integration logic.

Android: Big, but fragmented

An Android phone held in a palm

Android dominates in market share for most markets.

Web3 developers face a completely different set of tradeoffs on Android. More specifically, the Android platform offers a large global market and a wide range of devices, including smartphones, tablets, and laptops, but lacks a standardized framework due to its open-source nature.

Android development brings three benefits for web3 developers: 1) a global user base, 2) a strong developer community, and 3) flexibility and customization.

  • Global user base: A key advantage of building web3 apps on Android is its large and diverse user base. Android is the most popular mobile operating system in the world, with over 2.5 billion active users. This means that web3 app developers building on Android have access to a huge potential market for their apps, and can reach a wide and diverse range of users. This can help web3 app developers to grow their user base and increase the adoption and usage of their apps, and can provide them with valuable insights and feedback from their users.
  • Strong developer community: In addition to the large and diverse user base, Android also has a strong and active developer community. The open-source nature of the Android platform has fostered a vibrant and engaged developer community, with a wealth of resources and support available to engineers. This can be very valuable for web3 app developers building on Android, because they can tap into this community for support, guidance, and inspiration.
  • Flexibility and customization: By being open-source, Android gives developers a high degree of freedom to test different web3 integrations and crypto features. This is especially important for a nascent field like crypto, which needs experimentation to find product-market fit and build best practices. Android developers can also have the option of using app sideloads and installations via APKs, effectively giving their apps a massive iteration boost. Finally, Android’s philosophy fits perfectly with that of crypto developers, many of whom are ardent supporters of open-source software development. It is therefore not a surprise that we have seen more web3 apps on Android than on iOS.

Still, building Android apps is not easy for web3 developers, for the following reasons:

  • Lack of consistent and standardized platform: One of the main disadvantages of building web3 apps on Android is the lack of a consistent and standardized platform for web3 app development. Too often, the Android development experience is marred by fragmentation. For instance, the most recent Android versions are not fully adopted by and compatible with all devices. Moreover, web3 developers face a huge UI/UX headache from the hundreds of distinct Android devices currently available.
  • Security and privacy concerns: Most industry experts agree that Android users face significantly higher risks of downloading malicious apps, rooting issues, and privacy concerns than their iOS counterparts (source). This hurts web3 developers in two ways. One, users are less willing to try new crypto features. Two, their apps can be targeted by malware from other apps, resulting in disastrous consequences.
  • Competition with other apps and lower revenue per user: Because the Google Play Store’s review process is less strict than that of the Apple App Store, there can be a flood of low-quality apps that can make it difficult for your app to stand out. Moreover, the average Android user often has lower spend and higher churn than the average iOS user. This forces Android developers to capture a much larger user base in order to make the same revenue amount as iOS developers.

Solana Mobile: Too early for now, but worth keeping an eye on

A Saga phone running the Solana Mobile framework

Testing the Solana Mobile OS on the new Saga phone.

The Solana Mobile stack is a direct response from the crypto industry to address the limitations of iOS and Android. Based on Android, Solana Mobile’s value proposition is to provide a seamless, crypto-first mobile experience for web3 believers. The framework is built by the Solana Foundation and is deeply integrated with the Solana blockchain, known for high transaction speed and low gas fees.

We think that unless you are a hard-core Solana developer, it is still too early to develop on Solana Mobile.

The biggest challenge of Solana Mobile is the lack of an existing user and developer network. While the duopoly of iOS and Android has attracted criticisms from both users and developers, we believe that it is extremely difficult to break their network effect. Solana Mobile, or any other mobile platform, would have to overcome the classic chicken-and-egg problem: users won’t use Solana Mobile if there are only a few good apps, while developers won’t build apps if the platform has too few users.

In addition, we see a steep learning curve for developers building on Solana Mobile. By and large, its technical stack is untested. Despite significant efforts from the Solana Foundation, the compatibility of the Solana Mobile platform with existing tools and technologies for mobile developers remains largely unknown. Coupled with the problem of a very small developer community, this translates to significant hurdles for Solana Mobile developers.

Even so, we’d argue that it is worth keeping an eye on Solana Mobile. A phone and a mobile stack built specifically for crypto are an interesting and bold idea. First-class support for crypto may solve many challenges faced by iOS and Android developers, while inspiring new, innovative mobile-first crypto use cases. Solana’s integration can unlock performance and scalability for Solana Mobile apps and can be the perfect fit for blockchain games, social networks, and marketplaces.

Final words

In summary, iOS and Android each offer a unique set of opportunities and challenges for web3 developers. Given that the majority of Internet traffic now comes from mobile devices, we believe that web3 developers should evaluate both platforms to “meet the users where they are” and delight them with powerful web3 capabilities.

Dreamerly is here to help. Our mission is to dramatically remove the challenges of building web3 on both iOS and Android. With the Dreamerly SDKs, developers can stop worrying about blockchain integration, app store rejection, and backend issues, and can focus on what truly matters: their customers.

 

 


 

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