Developing for mobile platforms such as iPhone, Android, and Blackberry, is hot right now. The choices have exploded in recent years. For micro ISV's (independent software vendors) like ours, Creative Algorithms, many positive things have been happening in the mobile space. Barriers to entry have lowered on some platforms, so getting personal with carriers is unnecessary; on-device application stores have become standard (with lower commission rates, increased customer awareness of apps, and ease of installation and purchase); upfront fees or memberships have become reasonable, and the market size for smartphones has been increasing. These improvements, however, have made it more difficult to choose which platform is the best fit, or which has the greatest potential for supporting oneself. To make the choice more difficult, the numbers keep changing. For example, the numbers have already changed since the start of research for this post--sales volumes for Android handsets have increased, 30 new Windows Mobile phones are now predicted, and 20k more apps have entered the Apple AppStore.
An important part of the decision is the numbers, but each mobile platform also has their negatives--Apple's submission practices, increasingly difficult discovery in the AppStore, and penny-candy pricing for apps. Android has few released phones with its platform, which means low volumes, plus its Market can be difficult to find on its phones. The new Palm Pre (webOS) has very low initial volume (as compared to its competitors) and has only just now opened its online store for submission of paid applications. Blackberry World must be installed on the device before use and the installation of apps isn't streamlined. Windows Mobile's look and feel is outdated, and its new new app catalog, Windows Mobile Marketplace, is not open, just currently taking submissions. Symbian is downright confusing--too many options, too many phones, and entry pricing is complicated and expensive. The Ovi store is promising, but consumer awareness for apps needs more promoting.
Each platform also has varying developing environments, but that is not the focus of this post. What business-side information can help small developers determine which path to strike? Is it possible to earn a living as a mobile software developer and on which platform is this goal easiest to achieve? This post will provide a valuable platform comparison and a foundation on which to determine the path for reaching self-employment goals as an independent mobile software developer.
I just updated the Mobile Development Platforms spreadsheet, linked to the right . I added more information on costs to sell (such as signing and registration fees), plus information about the on-device stores, from commission to additional fees. I also took a snapshot of the market size and current number of apps, which is constantly increasing for most platforms. I've also added new information for webOS, Blackberry, Windows Mobile, and Android. If you haven't taken a look yet, the snapshot outlines the available mobile platforms, listing such things as IDE, programming language, framework, and ecommerce such as distributors, marketing environment, signing fees, market size and number of apps on on-device stores. If you are trying to decide what platform to support next, it's a nice snapshot of key information.
PDA247, a long-standing premium news site for smartphone news, community, and forums has posted an interview with Creative Algorithms: "Mobile Platforms: A developer's point of view". Here's an excerpt:
Which is trickier--coming up with a good idea or 'porting it cross-platforms? Does your company have a long list of ideas, or the skill set to develop across platforms, or both? Recently I read an article about the iPhone becoming more difficult to develop for, due to fragmentation. Besides other things (volume, the AppStore....), the iPhone has been attractive to develop for because it does not require many iterations or multiple phones.
Just updated the Mobile Development Platforms Spreadsheet. Most of the updates are for Palm's webOS, and a few for Android. Most information has remained static. If you haven't taken a look yet, the spreadsheet outlines the available mobile platforms and lists such things as IDE, programming language, framework, and ecommerce such as distributors. If you are trying to decide what platform to support or where to 'port next, it's a nice snapshot of key information.
Google recently announced on their blog how they intend to promote Apps for the Android operating system. The "store" will be referred to as the "Android Market" which will be more of a repository, or archive, of applications available for the platform. They did not spell out how commerce will be accomplished--just that free apps (and maybe free demos?) will expect support for now, with more decisions to be made later. This news is welcomed by developers who are frustrated with the semi-closed nature of the AppStore, but does pose some critical issues in its deployment. In this post, I will compare and contrast some of the positives and negatives of the Android Market (as it has been announced), the AppStore, and the current existing smartphone application distribution system.
Windows Mobile 6.0 comes up highest in native mobile operating systems, according to a recent Evans Data survey reported at InfoWorld. A worldwide survey of 384 developers was conducted worldwide in May and June. Since the results add up to > 100%, respondents were able to select more than one answer.
The mobile software space is getting rather crowded. In the not-so-distant past, a mobile developer's choice was limited to two or three popular native operating systems: Palm OS, Windows Mobile (two flavors), or Symbian. Other platforms were less known or were perceived to not provide for much profit. For a microISV, either the barriers to entry (such as steep signing fees) were too great, or the platform was not popular enough to generate adequate third-party software sales.