One of the most common questions I get is “Which mobile platform should we be prioritizing for development?” Today, FierceDeveloper posted information from comScore’s May 2009 count of users per top smart phone operating system in the U.S. Here is some of that data with some of my own commentary:
- User base nearly doubled between February and May to almost 800,000 users, so it’s growing fast. There are still another 15+ new Android devices expected to be released by the end of the year (worldwide).
- This was before the launch of the myTouch from T-Mobile, the second Android device in market in the U.S., so I imagine this number is about to get another boost as the pre-orders of myTouch devices go live in a couple weeks.
- Pretty much all Android devices to this point are nearly identical in functionality and capabilities, so it is easy to develop applications that are addressable to the whole base. However, as more device manufacturers bring their Android devices to market in the back half of this year, you should expect this to change. In fact, much of the future appeal of this platform to developers will depend on how that shakes out in the next few months, showing how easy or difficult it will actually be to port apps between different flavors of Android.
- OUTLOOK: OPTIMISTIC
- Just under 900,000 users in the U.S. spread across 7 different handset manufacturers.
- The Symbian platform tends to be very fragmented, with at least 3 distinctly different major distros, and then several flavors of those.
- Symbian is much bigger in other parts of the world than it is in the U.S., but it still poses the same challenges to developers that need to create different versions of their apps for each variation of the OS in order to run optimally.
- Recent changes in the open-sourcing of the Symbian foundation may help things significantly in the next few years, but historically, developers have claimed that Symbian is very difficult to code for compared to other platforms.
- OUTLOOK: NEUTRAL
- Holding stable at about 2.4M users.
- I don’t believe this includes users of the Palm Pre, which has gotten a lot of attention this year, since that is based on the new Palm Web OS, and probably has about 60,000 users on it now, give or take.
- It’s an old OS with a solid base, but probably not worth a lot of resources going forward.
- OUTLOOK: FALLING
- 5.7M users and growing. Keep in mind that this number does not include all the iPhone 3GS devices, which started selling after this tally and has sold well.
- It’s pretty. It’s getting more powerful. It’s also just beginning to have to deal with some of the fragmentation issues that others have faced now that there are several different versions of iPhone and iPod Touch, each with some unique capabilities. Watch to see how the developer community adapts to this.
- It’s going to get more complicated to build compelling iPhone apps, and it is already much more difficult to get your apps noticed among the unwieldy in the App Store. However, I believe iPhone will still be important to keep in your portfolio for some time to come.
- OUTLOOK: STRONG
- Just crossed over the 7M user mark, although I don’t think I know anyone that has one. I don’t hear many industry people really talking much about Windows Mobile either, and that seems odd with such a relatively large number of users.
- Microsoft definitely does not have the strangle-hold on the mobile operating system market that they do on desktop PCs. They have to fight for their share.
- They’ve been in the game for a long time, and they are familiar with handling the complexities of managing an operating system across a wide variety of hardware combinations. If they’re able to parlay this into the mobile marketplace better than the next guy, they could do well.
- Microsoft now owns Danger, the makers of the T-Mobile Sidekick iconic device, which has a slick UI and marketplace of its own that is not Windows Mobile. I wonder what their plan is for this in the future.
- OUTLOOK: STEADY
- Just north of 12M users and growing strong.
- Jog dials, track balls, touch screens, oh my… they’re fragmenting… a normal part of technological evolution, but this makes it more complicated for developers. I imagine the especially unique touch-and-then-click interface on the Storm has posed some challenges as well.
- There are a lot of business users here, even though they’ve certainly done well at crossing into the consumer market. Business users typically don’t pay for their own purchases and downloads, especially if these charges are added to the carrier bill. For this reason, I think it’s a significant “miss” that the Blackberry App World does not support carrier billing.
- Too many users to ignore, and the “Crackberry” users are quite hooked.
- OUTLOOK: STRONG
I claim that the only reason mobile apps are popular in the first place is because, generally, the UI on our devices delivers a sub par experience. Mobile browsers are especially bad compared to what users expect on a computer. These increasingly more fragmented app platforms are bridging a gap right now to provide better micro experiences than could otherwise be delivered to a user… until the user experience catches up.
Expect this to change. As devices become more advanced, battery life becomes better, mobile processor speed improves, mobile data transfer becomes faster and cheaper, and mobile browsers become full-featured, and mobile desktops get cluttered with far too many separate micro apps, things will migrate to more of a web-like experience.
The next big game changer: Mobile Web Run Time (WRT). You heard it here.