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App wars: develop for Apple or Android?

With enrollments in university-based entrepreneurship courses and programs at record highs, more students than ever are exercising their startup interests. A significant number of these students will bring their first product to market in the form of an app for your mobile device. Startup costs are very low, and apps are relatively easy to launch with marketplaces like Google Play and Apple's App Store available for promotion and distribution.

For the 2,000 undergraduate students I work with annually at the University of Maryland, the most popular startup ideas involve the creation of an app. For these students, and all aspiring app developers, an early question is whether to build for Apple's iOS devices or Google's Android devices. While the popularity of iPhones and iPads is tremendous, the advantages of Android are a major draw for student developers.

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Students find that the Android platform is a more natural transition for app development because it's based on the Java language, which is taught throughout their computer science courses. They would need to develop a new programming skill set to work with iOS applications.

The ability to build Android applications on either Windows or Macs is also a key advantage for students. The proprietary nature of Apple's iOS design extends to the programming activities: Apps for iOS must be developed in Xcode, which is currently only available on Macs, or bypassed through a complex process of virtual machines or cumbersome virtualization software. The relative expense of Macs versus PCs also presents a high cost hurdle for many college students.

The user friendly design of Android development tools is also highly valued by college students. Android Studio, a free tool from Google, supports the building of apps for Android phones, tablets, and even wearables and related hardware. Students often start with the project wizards and templates for developing their Android apps.

Once an app is built and ready for release, the approval process for inclusion on Google Play or the App Store begins. The approval timeline for Google Play can be as soon as two hours and features fewer restrictions and rejections. In contrast, the Apple approval typically takes seven days.

While the difference of a week may appear to be of marginal importance to most, the excitement and urgency of first-time entrepreneurs is not that of most. The enthusiasm of college students for seeing their product released is even higher. Seeing your new creation in the market and generating real revenue is validation that you're a real entrepreneur. Experiencing this sensation within a few hours of submitting the app, versus waiting a week, is a powerful motivator for developing on Android for Google Play.

The opportunity to launch a global product as a college student is a common aspiration for today's generation. Beyond the U.S., the European market is a typical next step for app developers. The European app industry is thriving in today's exciting and competitive environment. While the fragmented market that inhibits app developers in countries like China could be recreated in Europe and other parts of the world as a result of recent Android investigations, for now the climate is right for student developers to succeed. Student developers, and the end users of their apps, would both benefit from being mindful of regulatory maneuvers that could hinder the innovation opportunities of mobile platforms.

Universities are fertile ground for app creation, and with Android, the path from app development to commercialization in the U.S. and abroad is clear.

James V. Green is director of entrepreneurship education at the Maryland Technology Enterprise Institute (Mtech) within the University of Maryland. His email is jvgreen@umd.edu.

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