Monday, November 28, 2011

The Application Island: Gaining Mobile Developer Mindshare

The Application Island: Gaining Mobile Developer Mindshare:

The barrier for entry for creating software for computing devices has never been lower. This has a lot to do with the mobile revolution. According to a report from VisionMobile, the time to market for applications has decreased from 82 days through traditional channels to 36 days with the advent of the app store. Developers have more reasons to publish to apps stores now than ever before, with curation, distribution, billing and monetization, discovery and feedback opportunities from users higher than ever.

There are several kinds of mobile developers. There are independent software vendors, contractors, hobbyists, moonlighting engineers, entrepreneurs, in-house and B2B/B2C focused developers. The strength a given mobile platform has much to do with how many quality developers it can attract to it.


Attracting Developer Mindshare

According to VisionMobile's findings, iOS has reached the most developers while Android has the most amount of "mindshare" (percentage of developers using the platform). Apple has done this through the notion "a clever mix of emotional and business incentives," according to the report. That includes the "coolness" factor along with easy branches to monetization for iOS apps. Android's openness attracts developers to its platform while Microsoft is known to subsidize developers to port their apps to the Windows Phone ecosystem.


Each of the major mobile platforms has a unique language used as the primary way of building apps. Apple uses Objective-C while Microsoft uses .NET through C#. BlackBerry and Android are the closest to each other with versions of Java. WebOs functions Javascript with heavy doses of HTML and CSS and is one of the closest mobile languages to desktop-based Web development.

In terms of native tools, Android, webOS and BlackBerry use Eclipse while Microsoft uses Microsoft Visual Studio and Apple has XCode. To develop for Windows Phone you must use a Windows computer, same for Apple and Mac. If you go to a hackathon in the near future, look at what developers are using for application development. Most times you will see Macs on the table because a Mac can create apps for both iOS and Android.


In terms of the lifeblood of developer tools, Android and iOS provide the most comprehensive APIs that help developers cut down on the amount of original code they have to write. For Android that means integration into all of Google's apps with the most important ones being location and maps while Apple's device access APIs and other offerings give developers the best access to the hardware. In developing mindshare for developers, these frameworks are the most powerful tools in the arsenals of both Android and iOS and where other platforms are lacking.

Network Effects & Application Platforms

VisionMobile notes that there are three different kinds of mobile platform types: software platforms, application platforms and communications platforms. Software platforms are services like Symbian and BREW (one of the first feature phone operating systems from Qualcomm that supported apps) that are for sharing of software development costs and risks. Communications platforms are the basics of telephony - calls, texts and services like BlackBerry Messenger (among other messaging platforms).

Application platforms are what we have come to know as the primary smartphone operating systems. The platforms are for connecting developers to users. In the mobile world Apple does this through the App Store, Google through the Android Market, Microsoft through the Windows Phone Marketplace and Research In Motion through the BlackBerry App World.

As we mentioned earlier today, application platforms create network effects which VisionMobile defines as, "Applications attract users, which attract developers to create more applications, which attract more users, which attract more developers, and so forth."

See the chart below on how brands, OEMs, users and developers interact with Android as an application platform.


Developers are the major driver for platform adoption, VisionMobile states. It costs Apple $2,300 to acquire a publisher for iOS according to the report but that turns out to be money well spent once the application ecosystem reaches critical mass.

Developers: what have the major platforms done to lure your interest? Do you code for one platform or all of them? What platform did you start coding for first and why? If you were to make that decision based on what you know today, would it be the same? Let us know in the comments.


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