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Summary:

The smartphone platform wars are in full swing, with newcomer Android grabbing market share from long-time platforms Symbian and Windows Mobile. Developers need to get making money as quickly, and speed to market plays a big role in adopting a smartphone platform for app creation.

Smartphones

The smartphone platform wars are in full swing, with newcomer Android grabbing market share from long-time platforms Symbian and Windows Mobile. The rise of the app store has played a role in the current smartphone picture, with apps becoming an important factor in consumer purchase decisions. It would seem only logical that app developers would create apps for the platforms with the largest installed device base, but a survey of developers shows that is not always the most important factor. Developers need to get making money as quickly as possible, and speed to market plays a big role in adopting a smartphone platform for app creation.

The survey by Vision Mobile polled 400+ app developers world-wide, crossing eight platforms: iOS (iPhone), Android, Symbian, BlackBerry, Java ME, Windows Phone, Flash Lite, and mobile web. These developers have all been building smartphone apps for at least a year, and many of them developing them for over five years. The data paints a good picture of the current smartphone developer mindset, and what is pushing them to target certain platforms. It seems logical that an important criteria affecting platform decisions by developers would be the installed device base, as the more handsets on a platform the larger the target market. This is not the reality, as evidenced in the following chart from the survey:

There are over three billion handsets in consumer hands that run on Jave ME, yet the number of apps for the platform available is much smaller than either iOS or Android. Symbian has many more handsets in the market than either Apple or Google, yet the meager number of apps for the platform demonstrates how disillusioned developers are with the confused state of affairs with Nokia.

The snapshot of the platforms currently being serviced by professional app developers is quite telling. Android has passed them all with a smooth 60 percent of respondents working with the platform. This is even more than the 50 percent share for iOS. Only five percent of these developers are currently working with webOS, proving how big a challenge faces HP now that the merger with Palm is final.

The developers have flocked to Android in part due to the speed to get apps to market. The primary focus on app developers is monetizing the apps, something not necessarily so in the past. The success of the various app stores has made this monetization a viable possibility. This was clearly voiced by one developer in the survey:

“Technical considerations are irrelevant. The choice of platform is always marketing-driven”

Platforms like Android and iOS with good app stores make it possible for developers to rapidly get new apps making money. App stores have dropped the time to market to just 22 days, with monetization occurring in an average of just 36 days. This has turned app development into a serious business, with good potential.

Related GigaOM Pro content (sub req’d): HP/Palm Merger Yields Big Opportunities

  1. this is the type of article is written from the POV outside the community, the truth is that besides a handful of devs there is little to no money to be made on any platform.

    over 95% of devs never even make a few hundred bucks on their apps even in Apples store, almost noone is “making a living” at this. right now lowend devs are rushing to market because of the low entry to barrier & because they are unaware of how little potential there is. my guess is withing 2/3 years we are going to see a great app bust & huge leveling off.

    the only way your going to get rich in the app store is if you have a service to tie into (i.e. FourSquare) & even then your part of a company & your money is made from ads, paid services, or investors. but most of those guys are broke too unless your Twitter or Facebook. ive never seen a bigger house of cards empire built than the app business, no such thing as easy money kids.

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  2. John Gauntt Monday, July 5, 2010

    Remember all those dire predictions about too many websites during the late 90s? I mean, after we passed 100,000 websites it was going to be impossible for people to make money. You couldn’t find websites, most of them were out-of-date, many were just zombies or placeholders, or they were buggy, or they even had malware?

    Then we had blogs with the same sequence of hand wringing.

    Now we have apps….

    plus ca change…

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  3. James Bailey Monday, July 5, 2010

    I think your numbers are wrong for the iOS installed base. It is more like 100 million according to Apple. You seem to be not accounting for iPad and iPod touch devices which would be odd for an article about developers targeting a platform.

    By skipping 40% of the installed base you are presenting a skewed picture. I can’t imagine it is on purpose–unless you are trying to make another platform look better in comparison. But you wouldn’t do that, would you.

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    1. These are not my numbers, they are from the survey being mentioned. They do state they apply only to the iPhone and not the iPod/iPad. That was their decision, not mine.

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  4. Android is growing but Apple is still the biggest and best App Store around. This is the main reason for buying the 4. Don’t believe me watch this:

    Why you need an iPhone 4 instead of an Android-based EVO:



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    1. I saw this video yesterday and I thought it was hilarious, but, dont forget the counterargument to it. =P

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  5. James – this is a great article and reflects similar results from a survey that my company, Kony Solutions, recently conducted of large and Fortune 500 companies. In our survey, more than 85% of companies indicated that their highest priority was to create a mobile offering for the iPhone (full survey results can be found here: http://www.konysolutions.com/marketing/mobile_report.php.) As you point out, there are so many devices with greater market share and companies who design their mobile strategy around just one device are missing the point. Companies and the developers they work with have to be ready to deliver a mobile application quickly across thousands of devices if they really want to see significant ROI from their mobile strategy.

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  6. Your article is informative, but lacking a developer’s point of view.

    Developer’s are definitely choosing a platform by the marketability of their solution, but also by how difficult it is to build a solution for that platform…technically. You mention “technical considerations are irrevelant”. That would only be true if costs were the same for developing solutions on any platform. Take J2ME for example…the cost of developing a solution for this platform can be 10 to 20x that of building for iPhone. The reality of developing for this platforms means developing for multiple devices based on carrier and hardware implementation of a non-standard OS. J2ME can run one way on a Motorolla RAZR and will behave entirely differently on INSERT MAKE MODEL. iPhone is easy…Apple has done a wonderful job in creating one device, one OS, one developement environment and one way to distribute.

    Also, what about marketability of “your solution”. i.e. if you build consumer apps, then you should target the largest consumer base…if you’re developing business apps, you might re-think that position and go Blackberry.

    There is much more to making a decision than just looking at numbers of handsets….Symbian is indeed popular, but most of the popularity is in Europe. I doubt if anyone in Europe would download an app that was for a location here in the U.S.

    Also symbian are on your standard “flip-phones”. My grandma doesn’t have any interest in downloading apps.

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