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Summary:

Not all mobile apps are created equal, and choosing the right platform for yours can be the key to success or failure. “The App Developer’s Guide to Choosing a Mobile Platform,” a new report from Colin Gibbs over at GigaOM Pro (sub required) discusses the essentials.

Which one will you pick?

Not all mobile apps are created equal, and choosing the right platform on which to launch yours can be the key to its success or failure. “The App Developer’s Guide to Choosing a Mobile Platform,” a new report from Colin Gibbs over at GigaOM Pro (sub required), takes a look at the seven leading mobile platforms and suggests key tips for anyone considering where to launch their next app.

As you might expect, Gibbs is sanguine about the opportunity for developers who choose to build for the iPhone. In fact, he suggests that not building for the OS that ignited the craze would be a foolish mistake for anyone hoping to hit it big with a mobile app. But the iPhone isn’t the only opportunity out there, and he carefully weighs the pros and cons of developing for Android, BlackBerry OS, Palm’s webOS, Maemo, Symbian and Windows Mobile as well.

Choosing among the competing platforms requires a clear-eyed assessment of the audience for your app, the technical strengths (and weaknesses) of the platform, how easy it is to monetize your work and the long-term health of the platform. You’ll need to ask the following questions:

  • Who is your audience? If you’re trying to reach a mass market consumer audience, the iPhone and Android are the big winners, with the most momentum and broadest reach. But size may not be the most important factor for your app, and other platforms may let you reach large pools of users with more specific needs — business-focused users or mobile users without reliable access to a full-scale computer, for example.
  • What technical firepower do you need? If you’re trying to build a complex app that runs in the background while users are on the go, you’ll want to pursue a multitasking platform like Palm’s webOS rather than the iPhone. If slick graphics and an immersive user experience are important, you want to pass up the BlackBerry OS and head for Maemo. Knowing what each platform can deliver today — and what it’s likely to offer in the future — can help eliminate some options.
  • Can you make money? Developers have it far better today than on carrier decks of old, but not all platforms offer the same opportunities, with different revenue-sharing models for developers, payment options for users and a wide range of median price points. If you’re looking for scale, consider platforms with large audiences and easy payment options. On the other hand, higher price points and more clicks to sale might not scare away high-powered niche users.
  • Is there a future for the platform? The mobile OS landscape is changing, and the fortunes of some are rising while others are falling. Gibbs takes a look at what to watch for in each case, including casting doubt on Microsoft’s ability to freshen Windows Mobile for today’s market and raising red flags for the white-hot spread of Google’s Android.

Gibbs’ report also takes into consideration a number of game-changing developments that will alter the course of mobile apps over the next several years. App users and developers alike should find it of interest.

Photo courtesy Flickr user splodge.

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By Celeste LeCompte

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  3. David H. Deans Monday, February 15, 2010

    Is this topic really worthy of a market study?

    BlackBerry has the business user segment, and iPhone has the consumer user segment. Won’t developers continue to gravitate to the pre-existing momentum in the marketplace? Where’s the current “fragmentation” that would justify the need for a Guide? Or, is this a forward-looking view of the marketplace that anticipates more granular segmentation in the future?

    1. Thanks for asking, David.

      It’s true that most OSes support specific segments, but it’s easy to over-simplify matters. BlackBerry and iPhone have blurred the lines between consumer and enterprise markets, and each major OS has specific strengths and weaknesses (technical, regional, demographic, etc.) that are discussed in the report. And yeah, we include forward-looking view that considers market forces and other factors.

      Love to hear what you think of it!

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  7. In response to David, I think it’s worth noting that ATT released a stat the other day saying a large portion of their iPhone sales now are going to business users. I think this space is moving WAAAAY to fast for you to say “Blackberry is for business users.” Also, I added a link to this article on our smartphone app development company Appiction’s new blog “So You Want an App. This is the type of question that comes up a lot with our clients: http://www.soyouwantanapp.tumblr.com

  8. David H. Deans Friday, June 11, 2010

    Rachel, point taken, regarding AT&T’s perspective of their iPhone user base — and how they have shared statistics that aid in their marketing efforts. Regardless, I was referring to the results of the most recent independent market research studies (that I track), and based upon the results of those “objective” studies BlackBerry remains the market leader for business users.

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