New iOS tools help Android developers -- and Google

New discovery of iOS apps in Google Search gives Google more user data for ad sales, analysts say

Google I/O 2014 Android characters

Android, in all its forms, is a big part of Google I/O.

Credit: Zach Miners/IDG News Service

Google and Apple are two of the staunchest competitors in any industry, especially with regard to their Android and iOS operating systems for smartphones and tablets.

One reality of the last nine months is that Apple has gained a tight grip on the market for high-end, pricier smartphones, the only kinds of smartphones that Apple makes.

Apple's iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus rocketed out of stores last fall and helped Apple grow its market share to almost 18% in the first quarter, its third consecutive quarter of growth, according to Gartner.

Meanwhile, Android phones, which are produced by many different manufacturers, made up 79% of the smartphone market in the first quarter, Gartner said, which would seemingly satisfy Google. But Google doesn't directly profit much from those smartphone sales, and instead depends heavily on its ability to offer Google Search capabilities, benefiting from the rich data it can capture from users through searches to sell to advertisers.

Google also has been on a mission to have Android apps, which are offered by many independent developers in the Google Play store, work across other platforms, such as iOS. At its annual Google I/O developers conference this week, the company announced important initiatives to expand its support for iOS and for the developers that build iOS apps.

One announcement was that CocoaPods, a management tool for iOS, will be the primary way for developers to obtain Google Software Development Kits (SDKs) for iOS. In a blog, Google said use of CocoaPods will simplify the process of importing software into Xcode, a programming language for building iOS apps. As a result, developers can more easily work cross-platform, analysts said.

Another, and potentially bigger, announcement was that Google has begun offering App Indexing to iOS apps, in addition to indexing from Android apps. Indexing is an industry term that means users can discover (or "surface") relevant content in a Google search. Now searchers will be able to open mobile app content both from Android and iOS apps. According to a blog, Google launched App Indexing with iOS for a small group of test partners.

Other announcements Google made include iOS support for its Cloud Messaging service and iOS app compatibility with the Google Cardboard SDK for Unity, a development platform for building games..

The steps Google took to please iOS developers were just a part of a number of I/O announcements. Some of the biggest news came from Google's announcement of Android M, the next upgrade to its mobile operating system, coming in the third quarter.

The indexing announcement of Google searches to include iOS apps could be a powerful tool for iOS developers and their customers, analysts and industry experts said.

"Google's announcement represents a huge step forward for apps that are already installed on Apple devices," said Lei Sun, CEO for Yozio, a firm that helps companies increase their mobile app user base.

Google's step is "essentially freeing the information inside of apps so it is easily discoverable for users, an incredibly important function since people find products and content on Google through mobile web search," Sun said.

To take full advantage of the innovation, Sun said developers need to install deep mobile links inside their iOS apps in order for the Google search engine to find the data.

But indexing iOS apps for Google Search seems primarily to Google's advantage, not necessarily users, two analysts said.

"Linking search to iOS is more about increasing the value of Google Search and means that Google Search becomes more versatile, valuable and sticky to end users," said Jack Gold, an analyst at J. Gold Associates.

"Google makes their money from search and sponsored search and not from Android licenses, so anything they can do to enhance use of Google Search on as many platforms as possible plays to their strength and ability to generate more revenue," Gold said. "The search folks don't care what OS you run, they just want to send you more ads that pay. It's a good play for Google."

For iOS developers, the Google Search capability should drive usage of iOS apps and services, added Patrick Moorhead, an analyst at Moor Insights & Strategy.

Gold agreed: "The developer wants his app used. In the example that Google showed at I/O, it was the Open Table app where each time the index from Google opens the OpenTable app and a user makes a reservation, the developer gets a fee. The more a developer can enable the use of Google search to open my app and make a reservation, the more money he makes. It's probably not a big deal to do it for most apps."

Even so, for Google, indexing iOS apps is "all about the user profiles and data" that Google can have access to, Moorhead said. "That's all Google cares about. Everything else is wrapped around that."

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