The App Developer's Guide to Choosing a Mobile Platform

Which one will you pick?

Not all mobile apps are created equal, and choosing the right platform on which to launch yours can be the key to its success or failure. “The App Developer’s Guide to Choosing a Mobile Platform,” a new report from Colin Gibbs over at GigaOM Pro (sub required), takes a look at the seven leading mobile platforms and suggests key tips for anyone considering where to launch their next app.

As you might expect, Gibbs is sanguine about the opportunity for developers who choose to build for the iPhone. In fact, he suggests that not building for the OS that ignited the craze would be a foolish mistake for anyone hoping to hit it big with a mobile app. But the iPhone isn’t the only opportunity out there, and he carefully weighs the pros and cons of developing for Android, BlackBerry OS, Palm’s webOS, Maemo, Symbian and Windows Mobile as well.

Choosing among the competing platforms requires a clear-eyed assessment of the audience for your app, the technical strengths (and weaknesses) of the platform, how easy it is to monetize your work and the long-term health of the platform. You’ll need to ask the following questions:

  • Who is your audience? If you’re trying to reach a mass market consumer audience, the iPhone and Android are the big winners, with the most momentum and broadest reach. But size may not be the most important factor for your app, and other platforms may let you reach large pools of users with more specific needs — business-focused users or mobile users without reliable access to a full-scale computer, for example.
  • What technical firepower do you need? If you’re trying to build a complex app that runs in the background while users are on the go, you’ll want to pursue a multitasking platform like Palm’s webOS rather than the iPhone. If slick graphics and an immersive user experience are important, you want to pass up the BlackBerry OS and head for Maemo. Knowing what each platform can deliver today — and what it’s likely to offer in the future — can help eliminate some options.
  • Can you make money? Developers have it far better today than on carrier decks of old, but not all platforms offer the same opportunities, with different revenue-sharing models for developers, payment options for users and a wide range of median price points. If you’re looking for scale, consider platforms with large audiences and easy payment options. On the other hand, higher price points and more clicks to sale might not scare away high-powered niche users.
  • Is there a future for the platform? The mobile OS landscape is changing, and the fortunes of some are rising while others are falling. Gibbs takes a look at what to watch for in each case, including casting doubt on Microsoft’s ability to freshen Windows Mobile for today’s market and raising red flags for the white-hot spread of Google’s Android.

Gibbs’ report also takes into consideration a number of game-changing developments that will alter the course of mobile apps over the next several years. App users and developers alike should find it of interest.

Photo courtesy Flickr user splodge.