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Which platform to build for?


Siddharth Sethi

December 22, 2009

There are a ton of mobile phone platforms out there. Which one do you build for? Difficult choice. Or do you wait for some consolidation? Do you build for all, do you build for the leader? Or to simplify things, do you just build a web app that runs in the browser?

Our clients are always asking this question. And many are very rightly confused. Here is how I see this.

Let me answer the last question first. Web app or native app? I would refer to my earlier post and presentation here. You can definitely build a web app, but let me quickly list down some very obvious disadvantages of web apps and therefore the reasons for apps success.

  • First off, you do not leverage many of the apps phone hardware’s features like GPS, sound, video etc and most important of all storage.
  • The user experience is nowhere near a native app that takes advantage of more processing power, more events and more of pretty much everything.
  • The user needs to be connected all the time when using web apps. Given the still spotty internet connections and call drops, you do not want your user to be frustrated with your web app.
  • Web apps are difficult to market now. Native apps have taken the lion share of the consumer’s mind share. Which web app do you remember?

OK – so I get the drift – native apps are probably going to win for now. But what about the plethora of different platforms? iPhone, Blackberry, Windows, Palm OS, Nokia Symbian and Google Andriod amongst others.

So many different platforms and a very limited budget. And we thought competition was good!

Well, let me put it this way.

Common sense would dictate that you first build for the market leader. In no uncertain terms, Apple’s iPhone is the market leader. There is really no challenger in sight, so far, that looks set to upset the equation in the near future. Everyone else is playing catch up right now including Google’s Phone.

Please refer to this post. Even though it is a year old, the trends haven’t changed much, except for Google’s Android catching up a little bit and the iPhone further consolidating its position with the 3GS. I will try to post a more recent market share chart.

So, to stay in the game, you have to cater to the biggest player in the game. You can hate it, but you simply cannot ignore it.

Then comes the second and third players. They are, in my opinion and based on my reading of the market – Blackberry and Android respectively. The blackberry is big in the corporate segment, way ahead of any competition, even the iPhone. Again, it will continue to stay ahead in times to come and ignore it only to your peril.

The Android is catching up fast, there is no doubt regarding that in my mind. The other advantage that it brings to the table is that it is fathered by Google. Anything from Google cannot be a mere pushover. You have to take it seriously. Couple that with the fact that it is going to come out without a carrier (possibly subsidized by ads) and you have a game changer on your hands.

So my opinion here is this

  • Think of web apps as merely ad dons to your website, they are not going to get you any popularity anytime soon
  • Work towards building for the iPhone and Android if your app idea is consumer oriented.
  • Build for the Blackberry and the iPhone if your app is enterprise/business focused.
  • But just don’t sit there and do nothing. You will lose out!

In another post, I will try and enumerate the costs of building apps for multiple platforms together. You will be surprised!

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