Mobile software development is growing fast. It has become more popular than desktop development and is slowly catching up to web development as shown in the pie chart below. You may be thinking of jumping on the mobile development bandwagon too. Here are the top six things to consider when choosing a mobile platform.
1. Who is your target audience?
It’s easy to get excited about a mobile app idea. Many times mobile ideas originate around a task or function, rather than a specific audience. The target audience often is mistakenly considered an afterthought, only important when developing a marketing strategy. It’s possible to build a mobile app, then find out that the majority of your audience are not smartphone users, deeming your investment worthless.
The graph below shows which operating systems are most used. As expected, Google and Apple have the largest share of users. As of January 2014 they own 84 percent of the mobile market share. It is no secret that some platforms have an advantage when it comes to certain target audiences. If your target is the regular consumer market, then the iPhone and Android will probably be the best platform for you. If your target is mainly the business community, then you may want to consider the BlackBerry OS with all its Enterprise features.
2. What are you trying to achieve?
Are you looking for a platform that will generate more revenue? Or maybe your focus is on efficiency and low cost. Or are you concerned about how many people you can reach? Developers who value revenue potential, graphics, app discovery, and user reach may choose the iOS platform. However, it is selected less frequently by developers who are looking for open standards, community programs, portability, and choices in your development environment. Also, keep in mind that Apple decides which apps go into the app store, so there’s always a small risk that Apple may reject your app if they feel they cannot do business with you.
Android tends to be the chosen platform when open standards are a requirement, but less likely when it comes to app discovery. The drawback to having open standards is that your app may work well on some devices and have problems on others. Look at apps on the Google Play store and you’ll often see complaints about how the app works well for some users, while others may be experiencing issues. Take a look below at the reviews for the Fox-Fi app for example. You can read more here.
Developers who value community programs more often choose the RIM platform. If you are looking for a cross-platform solution, HTML5 apps may be the way to go. However, it must be thoroughly tested on the targeted platforms, as the results can vary greatly from device to device. Facebook, for example, tried for a long time to keep an HTML5 app going. Facebook experienced so many performance issues that they decided to give up on it and provide native apps instead. You can read Mark Zuckerberg’s explanation here. The Financial Times, on the other hand, finds that the HTML5 technology works just fine for its strategy. You can read more about Financial Times’ mobile development.
3. What income opportunities are you after?
Each platform offers different income opportunities. If you are aiming for a regular income, then the mass market with its large audience would be your best target. One of the most common ways of bringing in revenue is to sell your app. Remember, your product doesn’t always have to be low priced. If you are targeting high-end businesses, then they usually wouldn’t flinch at buying a more expensive app if it is useful to them. Also consider that a marketing edge in a less crowded platform such as the RIM can work to your advantage.
4. Speed to cost of development.
You will need to invest money, skills, and time to build a high quality app. Your requirement may be to get the app out the door in a short amount of time. This will affect your choice of a mobile platform. Android with all its open standards has more reusable code available that you can plug in to your own code and tweak as you need, saving time since you do not have to develop from scratch. There are now many third-party controls vendors like Telerik who are making mobile toolkits and frameworks. Hybrid apps are also faster to develop as most of the development time goes into the web component, which is used across all devices, reducing the time it takes to build the application and the development cost.
5. The back end infrastructure
Mobile developers also need to consider the back end infrastructure. Where will the data your app generates be stored? For example, take a To-Do List app. Where will your lists be stored? How are users authenticated? How do you send push notifications? There are several vendors who offer Platform as a Service (PaaS) solutions to help alleviate some of this work. Windows Azure Mobile and Google Cloud Platform for example offer great PaaS solutions for mobile development.
6. What is the future looking like for the mobile platform you are considering?
Is it a stable platform? Will it still be around tomorrow? With the mobile technologies advancing so quickly, changes occur on a daily basis, so you should think long-term. Every app is launched with the expectation to give great results in the future. Choosing the right platform will allow your app to be downloaded more, increasing the amount of users, which may lead to more updates required for the app.
We are living in a time when more and more businesses are considering adding a mobile app to their marketing strategy. Maybe you’re thinking of moving in that direction as well. CTS can help you assess your business needs and help you determine the best platform(s) for your mobile app. Mobile development has become a huge interest to me. There’s so much to say about mobile development that I hope to write a few more blogs on the subject in the near future.