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One price doesn’t fit all: a cost breakdown of the top mobile platforms

By Taylor Martin September 30, 2013, 5:18 pm
best smartphone

We often compare mobile platforms by various metrics – market share, user-friendliness, the size of their respective app catalogs, and much more. But rarely do we take the time to compare the cost of owning one mobile platform versus another.

It’s no secret that applications sometimes cost more or less on opposing platforms. Some games cost more on Android than they do iOS. In the same vein, a $0.99 Android application may cost more on iOS or Windows Phone.

Which platform will cost you the most over time? Which platform is home to the most expensive applications? It’s no simple question to answer, and there is no umbrella answer for all users. Everyone uses different applications and likes different types of games. As such, your mileage may vary, but we’ve broken down some interesting facts about applications and games for Android, iOS, and Windows Phone.



Top 100

What happens when you take the top 100 premium applications for each platform and add them all up? You gets some large, cringe-worthy numbers. And the results will surprise you.


The platform with the cheapest list of top 100 apps was actually Windows Phone. To buy all 100 apps, it would cost $173.31, while buying all 100 top apps for iOS would cost an even $223. Android was by far the most expensive with an average cost of $3.96 per app. To buy all the top 100 Android apps (at the time of this writing), it would cost $395.54 before applicable taxes. Ouch.



We would have compared a price list of cross-platform applications between all three platforms, but it was futile. While Android and iOS share a lot of the same applications, there were only a handful of premium Android and iOS applications which were also available on Windows Phone. The brunt of the truly cross-platform applications – SkyDrive, Evernote, Twitter, etc. – are completely free.


Instead of apps, we turned to the next best thing: games.

Mobile gaming is a blossoming industry, and with the Xbox brand on its side, many well-known game developers have officially started to support Windows Phone. Because of this, we were able to compare various metrics in the price of mobile games on each platform.


Windows Phone is home to the most (absurdly) expensive game. It’s called AvoidTheBalls, and it costs a staggering $299.99. (Please don’t buy it.) Both Android and iOS offer games for $19.99, FINAL FANTASY DIMENSIONS and XCOM: Enemy Unknown, respectively.

If you add the price of the top 10 premium games from each platform, unsurprisingly, iOS offers the most expensive selection at $32.89. Android’s top 10 games collectively cost $25.90, and Windows Phone’s top 10 cost $23.90.

But if you compare a random selection of 10 games which are available on all three platforms, the individual results vary. See the chart below for a breakdown of the 10 randomly chosen games.





Android, iOS, and Windows Phone each come with their native cloud storage options. Google offers Drive for Android; Apple offers iCloud for iOS, and Microsoft offers SkyDrive for Windows Phone.

With Drive, Google users get 15GB of free storage, which is split between all your Google services – Google+ picture storage, Drive document and cloud storage, and Gmail storage. iCloud is storage space for documents, contacts, music, photos, and more, and it comes with 5GB free. Finally, SkyDrive is your basic cloud storage, and Microsoft offers 7GB for free with any new account.

All three services offer storage expansion. But which is the better deal?

For $4.99 per month, you can expand your Drive by 100GB. Or for $9.99 per month, you can expand it by 200GB. That’s either 115GB or 215GB, respectively. Your iCloud storage can be expanded by either 10, 20, or 50GB. Those will bring your total storage space to 15GB, 25GB, or 55GB for $20, $40, or $100 per year, respectively. Finally, SkyDrive has four additional storage options: 20GB, 50GB, 100GB, or 200GB. Respectively, the total 27, 57, 107, and 207GB packages cost $10, $25, $50, and $100 annually.


Of those, iCloud is the worst deal. It offers the smallest storage options of the lot. For comparison’s sake, the 100GB SkyDrive package is one-fourth the price of iCloud’s 50GB option, per gigabyte – $0.50 per gigabyte to iCloud’s $2.00 per gigabyte. The 100GB and 200GB options from Drive cost $10 and $20 more than SkyDrive’s comparable plans, respectively, but you get six additional gigabytes from the initial 15GB.

So if you need a ton of storage, SkyDrive is the most cost effective option. But if you can’t fork out the annual cost of SkyDrive, Drive is paid in monthly installments, for a little more cash over the course of 12 months. Fortunately, SkyDrive is available on all three platforms, and Drive is (officially) available on both Android and iOS.


Music Streaming


All three platforms offer music streaming options, as well. Windows Phone has Xbox Music; Android has Google Play Music All Access; and iOS has iTunes Match with iTunes Radio.


Both Xbox Music and All Access cost $9.99 per month and have roughly the same features to offer – cloud storage for your existing music purchases, unlimited streaming of millions of songs, offline listening, no skip limits, etc. With Xbox Music, however, you can pay the full year upfront for a discounted price of $99.90.

Apple’s streaming offering is quite different. For the entire year, iTunes Match only costs $24.99. What that gets you is the ability to upload and stream 25,000 of your own songs, not including iTunes purchases. It does not include streaming of millions of songs on demand, but iOS devices do have access to iTunes Radio, which is essentially Apple’s own rendition of Pandora, limiting radio skips to six per hour. Those who pay for iTunes Match can listen to iTunes Radio sans ads.

In short, iTunes Match and iTunes Radio cost significantly less than Xbox Music and All Access. But they also lack the flexibility to listen to any song at any time. Of Microsoft’s and Google’s offerings, once again, Microsoft’s is ever-so-slightly cheaper with its one-time annual payment option versus the monthly installments.


It’s difficult to draw a single conclusion from all these numbers. They’re open to interpretation, we suppose. Android’s top 100 applications cost more, but that could be explained by more than two things. Piracy, for one, has been offered by some developers as a reasoning for the higher cost of apps. But the types of applications in Android’s top 100 could also be the reason. One was a $15 launcher, something you simply can’t get on Windows Phone or iOS.


Why are the games on iOS, on average, higher than those on other platforms? Honestly, when we started, we figured it would be the opposite, that Windows Phone and Android would have the more expensive games. On an individual basis, Windows Phone games do cost more. But the average price for the top games are higher on iOS simply because it has a broader selection of fantastic games than the other two platforms – games which are worthy of higher price tags, such as XCOM.

But the most interesting part is that Windows Phone, in general, was cheaper than the other two platforms. Save for the 10 random games, the top 100 apps, cloud storage, and even native music streaming were all cheaper on Windows Phone than on Android or iOS, effectively making it the cheapest OS.


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