The smartphone platform wars are in full swing, with newcomer Android (s goog) grabbing market share from long-time platforms Symbian (s nok) and Windows Mobile (s msft). 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 (s hpq) 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.
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