When the Android excitement dies down, developers will start to consider the new Android OS to be a mixed blessing at best. The major potential positive for developers is the increased revenue that Android-based apps could deliver for them, particularly if the proposed Android Market is as successful as the iPhone App Store. The major negative is that it’s yet another OS for them to consider in an already crowded and fractured market. That means more development time, more certification, more testing – stretching their limited resources even further.
Yet another mobile OS means there will be some tough choices ahead for the developers. Many developers have held back from Android, as even the tiniest outfit has had to attempt to predict where the market is headed, to work out where to invest their resources. Should they concentrate on the ‘hotter’ platforms – iPhone, Android and Blackberry? And does that mean ignoring the sizeable market share of Windows Mobile and Symbian? And for the many developers that have already invested a lot of resources into Android, right now they will just be praying that the platform takes off so they can make their money back.
The difficulties of life as a mobile developer are seriously underestimated. First of all, they have to develop a quality product that people will want, which is no small thing. Then they have to make sure that it will work on enough devices to make it worthwhile. This is the tricky part.
It is nothing like the world of the personal computer, where you can cover the majority of people by using a single platform, Windows. You want to cover most of the rest, and you develop for Apple computers. Presto, you’ve covered over 90% of the market in two easy steps. No, I know it’s still not necessarily that easy, but compared to the mobile world, it’s a breeze.
Many developers would love the situation to be so straightforward in the mobile world. But it’s not. It’s a mess out there for mobile application developers. If you genuinely want your mobile application to be mass-market, that means dealing with numerous operating systems, carriers and dozens of devices. And you need to test your application on every last one of those devices. Testing takes time, effort and money. If you’re serious about delivering a good product, you can forget emulators and “device profiles.” There are so many factors at work in a mobile device that it’s a waste of time testing your application on anything but real devices. Of course, there are services and organizations that help developers, but let’s be clear, things are already tough enough for developers.
This is not to say that Google Android doesn’t have the potential to be great for developers, consumers and the whole wireless value chain. It certainly could be. The issue is the plight of the overstretched mobile application developer and just how much bandwidth they really have to devote to yet another mobile OS.
Not even the brightest commentator can tell us how this market will play out in the next two to five years. For those without the benefit of a reliable psychic, it means they follow the news like the rest of us, and guess where the market is headed and allot their resources accordingly.
But things have never been muddier in the world of mobile OS. Symbian has a big market share, years of evolution, but somehow no buzz. Windows Mobile is up there, but also lacking buzz. The iPhone is as hot as it could be, but still has a relatively small number of devices out there. Then you have Blackberry, LiMo, UiQ and now Google Android, all with their pros and cons, before you get to the numerous white-label options. So how does the humble mobile app developer know which way to go, and where to apportion resources?
In particular, we have to look at this dilemma in context of the iPhone, which is now firmly the hottest OS for developers. When it became clear how successful the iPhone App Store had become, that convinced the remaining doubters in the developer community to take the iPhone platform very seriously.
During that time, developers are reading news about Google Android, a new mobile OS with two major virtues. One, it’s open; and two, it’s backed by Google. That certainly got the juices flowing for many, but is hasn’t spurred the developer community to rally around the platform, as they have done with the iPhone.
Let’s not forget that developers have to be pragmatic. What truly convinced developers was not the excitement and promise of the iPhone, so much as the undisputed business opportunity in making good money from the App Store. If and when the business opportunity becomes indisputable, that is when developers will be truly happy about the existence of another serious OS in this already crowded market.
Syed is CEO of DeviceAnywhere, a firm that provides a handset testing service to mobile application developers.