Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Which mobile OS to develop your killer app for?

Behind “How much will this cost” the most common question clients ask us is “What platform(s) should we develop for?”.  Both eminently sensible questions with the later not having a simple answer.

Determining which platform(s) to develop for is a client specific enquiry depending on a number of factors:

  1. What is their target demographic and which devices is that demographic using?
  2. What is their target geographic and which devices are prevalent in the geographic?
  3. What are the technical requirements for the app (GPS, touch screen, background operation).
  4. What is the business model (free, paid for app, advertising funded, in app purchases).
  5. Do they have any inhouse development/graphic design capability?  If so then perhaps there is an argument that they can undertaken the prototyping on whatever platform that is to iterate through small screen usability and comms issues that can be expensive to tackle externally.
  6. Are there any strategic reasons to prefer or include a certain platform (you have a pre-existing relationship, it’ll ship on device, no of units shipped, device coolness factor etc).

Our clients typically do not thank us for this information as they wanted a simple answer not an assignment!  Working through each of these will deliver you a reasoned answer.

For all that the answer must be client specific, with the usual caveats, years of experience can be boiled down to a few high level guides:

  1. If it is a consumer oriented app targeted at developed countries then probably start with an iPhone build.  The iPhone platform has tremendous momentum, a great toolset, delightful useability and a solid installed base with users familiar with the idea of using (and paying for) mobile applications;
  2. If it is an enterprise application for North America or Asia Pac then probably start with a Blackberry Build;
  3. If it is an enterprise application targeted at European market then probably start with either a Symbian or Blackberry build;
  4. Do not build a Windows Mobile or WebOS application without an extremely good reason.  Windows Mobile has lost a lot of marketshare over the last few years and has a lot of ground to make up before it becomes a strong contender for mobile application development.  WebOS looks very interesting and with few applications available provides a good opportunity to stand out but marketshare is so low at present that it will be difficult to make a return on investment; and
  5. If you don’t actually need to leverage any of the underlying native capabilities of a device consider developing a webkit based application (allowing you to go cross platform).

The answer that falls out of this process won’t necessarily be that there is one best OS for you.  In fact I was really interested to read recently that research on “well funded” US startups showed that more than 75% were pursuing a multi-platform strategy while over 50% were developing their applications for all six of the major mobile platforms (Android, iPhone, Palm, Blackberry, Symbian and Windows).  So the answer seems to be that if you have enough money build for everything.  Naively I’m assuming that these well-funded startups are choosing to develop for six mobile platforms simultaneously because they have done their homework rather than because they couldn’t decide.  As an aside, SimWorks welcomes enquiries from all well funded US startups!

Mobile is an incredibly dynamic market so these are today’s rules of thumb only.  5 years ago my answer would have been much simpler:  Symbian!

[Via http://simworks.wordpress.com]

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