Why Are Android Apps Ugly?

It's true that not all Android apps are ugly. But if you spend awhile using an Android smartphone or tablet, then switch to an iPhone or iPad, you can see the difference: iOS apps don't just look shinier, they work better and are easier to use. Even when an app is available for both iPhone and Android, the iPhone one usually looks better.

Why does this happen, and should it be a concern if you're thinking of buying an Android smartphone?

Low barrier to entry

Writing apps for the iPhone or iPad costs $99 per year, if you want to put your apps on the App Store. You use a language called Objective-C, that's only used to write Mac and iOS apps, and every app you write will be screened by Apple before being placed in its store.

Judging by some of the crud on the App Store, this process doesn't weed out enough apps. But writing an app for the Android Market is much easier: You pay a $25 flat fee to put your apps on the Market, plus $20 if you want to charge for them. And you use a language called Java, that's widely taught in college and fairly easy to learn. Since it's easier to start writing Android apps, there are a lot more "amateur" apps on the Market.

Less money to be made

The Android Market is growing fast, both in terms of how many apps are on it and in terms of how much money there is to be made from selling apps. Despite that, though, Android developers are only making a tiny fraction of the money that's being made on the iTunes App Store. In fact, the biggest metric where the Market beats the App Store is its number of free apps.

There are people making money from Android apps -- sometimes, more than on the App Store. That's not the case for most people, though, which means it's not exactly the first stop for a dedicated developer who wants to make money.

Writing for multiple phones

IPhone and iPad app developers basically only have one screen size to worry about for each device. (The iPhone 4's Retina Display increased the screen resolution, but it exactly doubled it on each side, which made scaling the graphics up a lot easier.) Because of this, they can treat the screen as a canvas, and know what their apps will look like for everybody who uses them.

Android developers, on the other hand, have to write apps both for my HTC Aria -- about the size of an iPhone -- and for monster phones like the Droid, which have bigger screens and much higher resolutions. And since a lot of Android phones have slider keyboards, they have to make sure their apps work when you hold the phone sideways as well. If they don't account for every phone that their apps will run on, they either leave out a huge chunk of their market, or get angry reviews from people whose phones won't run their apps.

Different strokes?

Ask yourself this. If you're a designer, who owns a Mac and wants to create things of lasting beauty and utility -- and charge money for them -- which kind of phone are you going to write apps for? Which kind are you going to buy?

Again, I'm not saying there are no beautiful Android apps. But there are more of them for the iPhone and iPad, and they're why people love them so much.

Jared Spurbeck is an open-source software enthusiast, who uses an Android phone and an Ubuntu laptop PC. He has been writing about technology and electronics since 2008.