We had an interesting discussion around the office today around this article in the Guardian. The thesis seems to be that developers should concentrate on the Android platform, even though too many are concentrating on iPhone apps. His justification is two fold: Developers are spending too much time on the wrong platform, and they are doing that because they want to advocate for their preferred platform.
I think that’s an incorrect analysis, for two important reasons.
- The Killer App for a Smartphone is the ability to make and receive calls. (Or, if you are under a certain age, to send and receive text messages.) No customer picks a particular phone platform for the apps. The choice of platform is largely made based on the local market, the carrier coverage, brand image, and what phone platforms are available and pushed by the carrier (at least in the US)
- The number of available Apps affects the buying decision in two ways, and neither is a linear relationship. If there are ‘enough’ apps, the platform can be competitive. The three major platforms discussed in the article, Android, iPhone, and Windows Phone, all have enough apps to be competitive. Beyond a certain point, app numbers only add confusion to the marketplace. I mean, really, how many weather apps do you want to sift through?
That means Developers can drive a platform market only to a point. Once there are enough apps, more or less developer participation won’t matter. I do believe developers themselves know this as well. I don’t think any software developer is creating iPhone apps because they want iPhone to win more marketshare.
My concern about the article is that business people may walk away from it with a simple answer of “Write for Android”. I don’t believe the market is that simple. I don’t think that’s smart.
We encourage our customers interested in mobile apps to target both Android and iPhone. Together, they are 65% of the market. After that, adding a third (or more) platforms produces diminishing returns. That’s because both the third and fourth platforms (by market share) are shrinking: Symbian and RIM. I would not advise a customer to develop a new app for a shrinking market.
Windows Phone 7 is interesting if your app would benefit from one of two factors. There are fewer apps there, so you may be able to stand out better. Or, if your app space has a deep integration with the Microsoft ecosystem, it’s a smart bet. Otherwise, it’s still too small to be a first or second choice.
Finally, there’s the HTML5 path. I think that’s fine if your application’s purpose is to be a cross-platform app. That, to me, means an app that gets sold in the enterprise, and all the users will be trained on the app, and the users will prefer a consistent experience even when that experience is not the best for that particular platform. If your application must compete against native apps on any of the major platform, and least common denominator solution will likely fall behind.
My recommendations are not a simple sentence, because I don’t think it’s that simple. If you really want to make a smart decision about a mobile strategy, it takes more than just one data point, like market share of that platform. You have to understand how your market intersects with the platform market, the costs of actually supporting each additional platform, and the competition in the app space on each platform.