June 18, 2009

Smartphone OS Wars: Develop for which platforms? Part I

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As the smartphone wars rage on, mobile application developers regularly face a common dilemma: what platforms should I develop on? After some research and our own analysis we’ve deconstructed the answer into business (Part I) and technology perspectives (Part II).

Part I: The Business Perspective

iPhone, Android, Blackberry, webOS comparison chart

iPhone, the reigning application king has 50,000+ apps, largely driven by the simple developer user interface and first-to-market App Store. The iPhone has surpassed the expectations of many with an estimated 15M (UPDATED: Note, does not include ~40M iPod Touch) users worldwide and approximately 14% of shipped smartphones. Apple will continue to foster the growth of its App Store, not because it’s a profit center on its own, but because Apple is leveraging the App Store to drive iPhone sales (emulating what iTunes did for the iPod). However, iPhone’s premium positioning and exclusive-carrier approach leaves plenty of room for other players. While many developers are starting out with the iPhone they may quickly find themselves developing on…

Android. Taking an open source approach, we project Android to grow at least 10M users by this time next year. The G1 is shipping across multiple carriers in five new markets (France, Germany, Spain, Italy, Australia), and there are 18 upcoming Android handsets from almost all major manufacturers (Acer, HTC, Huawei, LG, Motorola, Samsung, & Sony Ericsson). Handset makers and carriers need help fighting proprietary smartphone OS’s like iPhone and BlackBerry, and are hoping Android is their answer. A key concern for developers is the wide variety of hardware expected (not even considering Android on netbooks and alternative devices), particularly in the US where carriers are seeking to differentiate Android handsets to gain an edge. While consumer apps will compete directly with iPhone, hardware tailored to a vertical market may create app competition with…

BlackBerry. With clear appeal to its 30M strong targeted user base, BlackBerry is limited by its clumsy App World interface (particularly the app buying process), less sexy UI, generally more expensive apps, and the millions of BB users on pre-Pearl (late ‘06) that can’t gain access. Still, for the millions of BlackBerry users unfamiliar with iPhone App Store (and actually aware of the App World), this is a dramatic improvement. In listening to developers’ frustrations with the iPhone App Store, Blackberry is committed to turning around application submissions in less than 2 weeks, a service found only on BlackBerry and…

Symbian. The current worldwide smartphone market leader with an estimated 50M users, Nokia’s Symbian has been losing market share quickly in recent years (62% in 2007, 49% in Q1 2009). Nokia’s Ovi stumbled into the app marketplace in late May, ‘09 touting 20,000 ‘items’ but today offers only about 1000 apps. Developers seeking a global user base, particularly segments within EU and Asia ought to consider Symbian, but others may want to hold out until they are more like iPhone/Android and less like…

Windows Mobile. Working closely with a core set of app developers now, Windows Mobile is far behind in the app store phenomenon. There are 20,000+ WinMo apps available via web, about 30M users, and the money to make a big splash, but it is too early to project. Windows Mobile 6.5 is supposed to be greatly improved, and their app store, Skymarket, is promised to launch later this year, but it will be interesting to see if this is enough for them to get back in the game.

This article is continued in Part II, “A Technical Perspective”…

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