AI sparks classic Android, iOS tug of war for developers

While Google has been rolling out AI features for the past year, Apple’s entry is brand new.
While Google has been rolling out AI features for the past year, Apple’s entry is brand new.


  • Both Apple and Google are now hoping that developers build on their respective AI stacks—as the bid to monetize generative artificial intelligence commences around the world.

Ahead of its Worldwide Developer Conference (WWDC) on 10 June, Apple chief executive Tim Cook met 22-year-old Indian developer Akshat Srivastava, whose app MindBud was one of the winners of Apple’s annual developer competition, Swift Student Challenge. While Srivastava was one of many app-makers who was in the spotlight, the narrative was clear—a focus to capture developer interest, with AI as a centrepiece.

The story was similar at Google, too, which on 14 May announced features and initiatives to lure developers into building apps and services on its Gemini large language model (LLM)-powered suite of features for Android, Chrome, YouTube and more—which have estimated active user bases of 3.9 billion, 3.2 billion and 2.5 billion, respectively.

With Apple and Google both in the fray for generative AI, the stage is now set for an Android versus iOS battle—which will now look to attract developers. At stake is commercialization of generative AI—as more developers build apps and services for Apple and Google’s AI stacks, the Big Tech firms will begin to earn from the billions of dollars spent in building generative AI use cases and application programming interfaces (APIs).

Read more: Apple’s ambition: It wants AI to stand for Apple Intelligence

An API is a code base for any software platform that allows developers to build applications for the respective platform.

Speaking with Mint, Srivastava said Apple’s developer outreach is enabling independent innovators.

“Apple’s developer documentation is strong and simplified, and it is easy to build one app and seamlessly market it to all of iOS (for smartphone users), iPadOS (for tablet users) and macOS (for laptop users). As independent developers without vast resources, working on Apple’s developer ecosystem makes it easy to cater to a wider audience, which in turn can help us focus on creativity and simple use cases—rather than coding and debugging issues," Srivastava told Mint.

At the other end of the table, developers being wooed by Google stand at a precarious juncture. Varun Mayya, an independent developer and technology content creator, said that one of the biggest draws of building for Google’s ecosystem is its outreach. “Apple’s market is too small for bootstrapped developer companies to work on building commercially monetizable apps and services from India. However, Apple’s devices, such as the iPhone, have specialized hardware components such as a lidar sensor—which enable specific apps that use visual design—that can make the most of Apple’s AI stack," he said.

While Google has been rolling out AI features for the past year, Apple’s entry is brand new. Calling it ‘Apple Intelligence’, the iPhone maker’s generative AI push includes on-device features such as live call transcriptions, email writing and summarization, photo editing and a new interface for its cross-platform digital assistant, Siri. Apple’s AI APIs are also open for developers to build AI into existing third-party apps, or even make completely new ones.

Read more: Unreal faces and AI brains: An uncanny valley?

Industry stakeholders now believe that while both Apple and Google have been ‘late’ to the AI party, the duo’s overall influence and user base around the world could lead to a new round of tug of war between Android and iOS—two mobile operating systems that control almost the entirety of over 5.5 billion smartphones around the world. Of this, Google is estimated to have a market share of 70% at the end of last year, while iOS is estimated to have nearly 1.5 billion devices globally.

The steep numbers offer a clear case for why Apple and Google would be looking to woo developers into their ecosystems. Both the companies have spent billions to build their own AI models, which they are now looking to monetize. A key part of the monetization strategy, for either parties, would be to have developers build applications that use locally running, scaled-down versions of large language models to appeal to users.

Mayya said that Apple’s AI use cases showcased at WWDC were “underwhelming."

“There was no real excitement in terms of innovative use cases, and most of the features showcased by Apple are already out there and published by Google and the likes. Plus, as a developer, if I were to build an early AI use case that is based on simplicity of usage for any user, Apple will likely build it natively into its ecosystem within the next two to three years, anyway. This disincentivizes the developer ecosystem from building for Apple—for Google, the third party app ecosystem is far larger, and is more promising," he said.

Both Mayya and Srivastava, however, agree that for developers, the opening up of AI APIs could lead to an increased quantum of commercially viable opportunities within the world’s largest application marketplaces—the iOS App Store, and the Android Play Store.

Still, key challenges persist. A senior iOS developer who works for a multinational company said on condition of anonymity that Apple’s developer ecosystem comes with “barriers."

“Apple asks developers to pay a fee before they can build apps for many of their platforms, such as Vision Pro. While the AI APIs remain in beta, this could be a key challenge. Plus, in India, being an iOS developer requires independent, early-stage professionals as well as students to own a Mac—which is expensive and is a key entry barrier in India. This would be a big challenge, for which independent developers based in India prefer Google’s ecosystem," the developer said.

Read more: Why developers are shopping for offline retail

In response to Mint’s query, Apple claimed that it does not charge any fee for any of its developer tools and features.

In India, Android devices account for nearly 95% of nearly 800 million active smartphones in the country. Apple’s iPhones are estimated to have a market share of nearly 4%—leaving it with around 30 million users in India.

Industry experts, meanwhile, believe that Apple’s ecosystem play could be key in luring developers into its ecosystem. Jayanth Kolla, partner and cofounder of industry consultant Convergence Catalyst, said, “Edge AI, which is what both Apple and Google are looking to market, is yet to be proven at scale. With billions of users globally, if there’s one company that can succeed in integrating local AI applications seamlessly as part of its user experience, it is Apple. On that front, it remains to be seen how well its promise works out—both in terms of seamlessness of operations, as well as its entire privacy pitch."

Google did not immediately respond to Mint’s emails until press time.

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