My Four Kids
A "father's" perspective on iPhone, Android, Windows Phone 7, and BlackBerry
I'm the CIO at Amadeus Consulting, a custom software development company based in Boulder, Colorado. I'm fortunate because I get to work daily with my four adopted children: BlackBerry®, iPhone™, Android™ and Windows® Phone 7. Of course they are not my real human children, but they all have their own personalities and characteristics that make them as unique as any two people.
As CIO I oversee many projects that involve creating custom mobile apps for these platforms and I regularly help clients decide which platforms will best fit their needs. This is a brief overview of "my children" and how they are suited to custom mobile app development.
Brief History: Created by Research in Motion, BlackBerry has been around since 1996 and was the dominant player in the smartphone market for some time. However, newer and more nimble competitors have since overtaken BlackBerry's market, forcing it to reevaluate many of its key functions and capabilities and provide better tools to independent developers.
Most Current Major Version: BlackBerry OS 6.0, launched August 12, 2010
Demographics: BlackBerry originally appealed to business users who needed to stay connected to email while on the go. Over time it expanded its range to include many students and more casual users, but it has always remained a primarily business-oriented device.
Distribution: 100 Million units sold
Share: Approximately 27% of the Smartphone market, 8% of the total US cell phone market
The Good and Bad: BlackBerry has recently reorganized some of its internal structures to make it more developer friendly, as well as modified pricing limitations and standardized the share it receives for app sales. This makes it more accessible for consumer apps, but it still presents challenges as multiple versions and varying device capabilities threaten compatibility and complicate development.
Also, BlackBerry is quickly losing ground to the iPhone and Android platforms as people renew their mobile carrier contracts and are able to upgrade their phones to a newer model. This presents a hard case to those looking to invest in mobile application development for their company since they will be launching in a shrinking market by launching in BlackBerry first.
Even so, BlackBerry has a very strong security background, including heavy mobile email encryption, which makes it preferable to security-conscious individuals. Also, the inclusion of a physical keyboard and other features make it especially popular and useful in many situations.
App Recommendations: BlackBerry is still a very strong platform and the new OS version does provide some interesting features. In other words, if not for the popularity of the iPhone and Android, BlackBerry would still be a strong choice for app developers. For BlackBerry app development, we generally recommend launching new apps on a different platform and then porting them over to the BlackBerry once the demand and market have been established, since the app store is still generally weaker, and other platforms provide greater distribution potential.
This may not be true in all cases, as some business and productivity apps are very well suited for the BlackBerry (and now Windows Phone 7 too), and the BlackBerry audience, and we would be happy to make recommendations on a case-by-case basis, if you would like to contact us.
Brief History: The iPhone was originally launched in 2007 and has been growing rapidly ever since. In addition to its advanced features and ease of use, it also brought the concept of the "app" into mainstream use.
Now developers could develop and easily distribute single-purpose apps to a very broad audience. This meant that for a relatively small investment (ranging in the tens of thousands, rather than in the hundreds of thousands or millions, in most cases) companies could create consumer-ready software and be able to reap a profit from it.
Also, it meant that Apple® only needed to focus on creating a good environment for independent developers, rather than trying to create every feature itself. Subsequent versions of the iPhone, and OS upgrades, have provided additional features and capabilities without causing severe fragmenting (yet) as is seen on many other platforms.
Current Version: iOS 4
Demographics: The iPhone started out as being characterized as a product for the young and rich, which has shaped its image ever since. However, as far as smartphones go, it is widely distributed among different audiences and is very popular internationally. For app publishers, the ability to reach younger audiences through the iPod and wealthier audiences through the iPad are also a bonus.
Distribution: Approximately 10 million iPads, 74 Million iPhones (all types), 50 million iPod Touches sold to date.
Share: Approximately 28% of the smartphone market, or 8.2% of the entire US cell phone market.
Good and Bad: Although suffering from some criticism of obscure app store rules, Apple has responded by clarifying submission guidelines, and providing better feedback to apps that are rejected. However, Apple's guidelines are still the most stringent of any app store, which means that certain types of apps will not be accepted.
The iPhone also suffers by being wholly tied to AT&T, which means that many potential customers do not purchase the iPhone simply because they prefer their current carrier. This may be solved in 2011 with a new iPhone model that will run on other carriers, but for now it is somewhat limited. Even so, app compatibility on other OS4 devices (the iPod and iPad specifically) provide improved accessibility to teenage markets, and unique media opportunities on the iPad.
Another challenge to the iPhone market is that there are already hundreds of thousands of apps on the market, which makes it harder for your app to stand out without marketing your product. However, iPhone app development is still a very powerful and capable option, and has been very successful for many app developers and publishers.
App Recommendations: The iPhone is an excellent place to launch an application, especially a paid application. Users are more accustomed to paying for apps, and are much more willing to buy apps than they are on other platforms. Apple also has the largest potential market for app distribution, although Android is catching up, which provides a very large potential audience.
There are some technical limitations that in some cases make other platforms more attractive (such as being able to run apps in the background), but really the iPhone has the popularity and performance most publishers need for a solid launch.
Brief History: Originally independent, Android Inc. was purchased by Google™ in 2005. However, it wasn't until the end of 2007 that the mobile OS was announced, and devices running Android didn't really start appearing in mainstream markets until 2009.
Even with its relatively late start getting a product to market, Android is quickly becoming the largest player with dozens of devices, and is anticipated to overtake Apple in 2011. However, this is mostly achieved by taking market share away from BlackBerry, rather than from Apple, and by converting a larger share of former feature phone users as they upgrade.
Current Version: Android 2.2
Demographics: Thanks to a wide variety of devices, including many low cost options, Android has the broadest distribution of any smartphone OS.
Distribution: Approximately 70,000,000 Android phones have been sold to date, and Google is currently selling over 200,000 phones per day, which makes it the fastest selling mobile OS on the market today.
Share: Approximately 23% of the smartphone market, or 6.7% of the entire US cell phone market. It is projected that Android will overtake the iPhone in 2011.
Good and Bad: The Android platform is by far the most open mobile platform with very few content restrictions, although a maturity rating system is being implemented to provide age-appropriate levels for some apps. Android also allows "beta" apps to be uploaded to the market and tested, and allows users to install non-market apps without hacking the phone. This can be helpful for development, but it also means that there are a lot of very poor quality apps in the market.
Also, Android comes in many shapes and sizes meaning that there are a lot of options for consumers, but different screen sizes, different resolutions, and varying capabilities make development challenging. Even so, most phones fit within three or so categories, so for most applications very few changes or modifications need to be made to include most new Android devices.
Another unique characteristic of Android is that users are much more accustomed to free apps, and on average download far fewer paid apps, and fewer apps in general. This is because Android comes preloaded with many of the most popular apps (Google Maps, Gmail, Web Browser, YouTube, and in some cases Facebook and Twitter), all of which are free anyways. This leads to a lot of free/trial version apps with upgradeable options, as well as more ad supported apps.
App Recommendations: As Android quickly becomes the largest smartphone platform, Android app developers are finding that they have a huge market for launching new apps. Its open nature and large demographic range make it appealing to a broad range of apps. Android is also very receptive to high quality development especially since there is a large amount of poor quality apps on the market. This benefits quality developers and designers who can produce high quality apps and interfaces because they immediately stand out over others. However, there is still a lot of competition on the app store and so it is a good idea to plan out your mobile app marketing strategy before launch.
Windows Phone 7
Brief History: Launched in 2010, Microsoft® is revamping its mobile operating system to remain competitive in today's market. Microsoft has been in the mobile market since 1996 with various versions of Windows Mobile and Windows CE, which still remain popular in industry specific devices and kiosks.
However, Microsoft seems to have learned the most from its competitors and has tried to take the best of everything that the iPhone, Android and BlackBerry systems have to offer.
Current Version: Windows Phone 7
Demographics: Unknown at this point, but it is designed to appeal to a range of people from business professionals to gamers
Distribution: Windows Phone 7 reportedly sold 40,000 phones its first day, with steady but slow sales since. Distribution may be limited by availability issues as many retailers reportedly do not have any in stock, but it may also be impacted by the massive numbers of people in the US who have already renewed their contracts this year to take advantage of new iPhone and Android models, and who are now unwilling to switch devices again.
Share: Currently less than 1% of the smartphone market.
Good and Bad: Windows Phone 7 is a great addition to the phone market and I personally have very high hopes for Windows Phone 7 in 2011 and beyond. WP7 also benefits from integrating naturally into Microsoft's other products, including Office, Outlook, Windows, XBOX, and many others. For users, this means that they can easily set up and sync their device to their computer without the need for additional dongles, data charges, or a tech degree.
For Windows Phone 7 app developers this also presents many opportunities to provide productivity applications which take advantage of its cross platform syncing ability. Microsoft has also set strict device requirements for manufacturers which will help limit fragmentation in the future. In fact, the current minimum standard for WP7 phones currently exceeds the raw power and capability of most of the phones on the market. In other words, these phones will all be very powerful and capable.
App Recommendations: Launching into a new platform is always a little bit risky since your app's success depends heavily on the success of the platform, which has only been out for a month as of this writing. We're confident that it will do well because of how well it incorporates current technologies and brings them together into a very usable interface. By using familiar technologies such as .NET and Silverlight development languages, Microsoft has made it very easily accessible to a huge range of developers, which will help its success.
For new app publishers, Windows Phone 7 is definitely a platform to keep an eye on. Its ability to easily interface with most Microsoft technologies makes it very appealing, as well as the ability to publish private apps (apps for only your employees, for example) make it the only phone that can do proprietary industry apps.
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