Selecting Platform for Your Mobile Apps

In the early days of mobile app development, people might still remember BREW, Symbian, and Java ME, but with the advent of smartphones, the choices started to simplify: If you were targeting enterprise business users, you developed for Blackberry; if you were developing for any other user, you developed for iOS. Then Android entered the picture, and now Windows has started to show its head.

At first, Android’s arrival was not a big deal, because there was only one version of their OS available on limited devices; you could still bet on iOS or Blackberry and win. Blackberry is no longer even a consideration, however, when developing mobile apps. In fact, between September 2011 and August 2012, Blackberry usage in the United States dropped 25 percent, and the mobile platform now boasts only about 1 percent share of the market. Blackberry is dying fast.

The chart below shows the top 10 platforms that are in the minds of the developers world-wide.

The trend of top platforms that developers are choosing correlate nicely with the number of handsets being sold worldwide. The numbers below show the increase of market share for Android, iOS and Windows as well as the significant decline in BlackBerry and Symbian sales.

In the end, developers are working on platforms that have the farthest reach. It is clear that the year over year continuous drop in Java ME, Blackberry and Symbian platforms are making these platforms less relevant in the smartphone market.

However, an interesting number in Fig. 1 is the Mobile Web – HTML 5 platform, which increased 56% in 2011 and continues to remain stable for this year. Despite the fact that mobile browsers continue to get more fragmented, and the Mobile Web wrestles with performance issues and lack of functional richness, the cross-platform nature of the Mobile Web platform continues to attract developers. We are seeing continued interest with our customers in this space and feel that this platform will remain important in the near future.

When looking at future trends for platform choices and interviewing over a thousand developers, the Developer Economics 2012 survey (see Fig. 3) shows a significant increase in the choice for the Windows Platform.

As Nokia and Microsoft continue their aggressive marketing for the adoption of Microsoft’s new Windows platform, the sales of Windows phones continue to have mixed results. Nokia’s Lumia 900 is getting good reviews from the press, and the base functionality in most cases is on par with the top-of–the-line iOS and Android phones. Even though we continue to believe that the developers will develop on the platforms that have the farthest reach, at present, Windows is one of the top platforms in the minds of the developers. The main reason for this, we believe, is the ability developers have to develop for the Windows 8 Metro UI, which offers an easy port to the Windows platform. This will get better as Microsoft merges the APIs for mobile and OS development. As enterprise applications continue to increase in both development and usage, this will continue to be an important development platform.

Having said that, Microsoft and Nokia have a short window to start showing an increase market share and customer reach from the measly 2%.

At the same time that Blackberry was gasping its last breath, open source technology was leading to a rapid fragmentation of Android, whose usage exploded both in the U.S. and globally. By mid-2012 Android devices were selling four times faster than Apple. Together, Apple and Android account for 85 percent of the mobile market. While the easy choice as to what platform you should develop your mobile app for is Apple, Google’s Android and all of its associated sweet-treat operating systems account for 50.1 percent of the market.

With Blackberry out of the picture as the dedicated business phone (unless you work for the government), companies no longer have the luxury of choosing a single platform if they want to be competitive, visible and relevant in mobile world. And more than ever, people are relying on their mobile devices to access the Internet.

Android and Apple each take very different approaches to their operating system updates. Apple is streamlined; they introduce a new iOS to coincide with the release of a new device, and they make previous versions obsolete, forcing everyone, for the most part, to adopt the same platform. (Even users are forced to comply: every time a user logs into iTunes, they have to update to the latest iOS).

Android, on the other hand, presents a garbled mess of new and old platforms and no standardization for device screen sizes. There are 11 OSs currently circulating for Android, with a 12th, Jelly Bean, just hitting the market. Yet with more than half of all mobile device users devoted to Android in one form or another, you can’t afford not to develop your app to be compatible with the Android OS platform(s).

Rapidly changing technology makes the cost of retaining the talent necessary to develop mobile apps for multiple platforms difficult. Because developing for the different mobile platforms requires extensively different knowledge – they use different languages, different protocols, different development strategies – it is very difficult for a company to maintain its own development team that is capable of writing mobile apps for multiple platforms. The smart answer to the question “What platform should I develop my mobile app for?” is the hardest answer to give: all of them. Developers can make it simple. If performance and local platform functionality is less important, you might want to choose the Mobile Web platform (HTML 5).

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