When Nokia announced its plans to adopt Microsoft’s Windows Phone 7 as its primary smartphone platform, Stephen Elop, Nokia’s CEO, positioned the alliance as the “third ecosystem.” Against a backdrop of reports that operators had become increasingly concerned about the dominant positions achieved in the smartphone market by Apple with its iPhone and Google with its Android partners, there did indeed seem to be some sense in creating a “friendlier” alternative to these market leaders.
But according to the most recent developer survey from Appcelerator and IDC, as far as developers are concerned there is another “third way.” After iOS and Android, the platform most respondents said they are “very interested” in developing for is HTML5 mobile web. And this platform was some way ahead of Windows Phone 7, which led the race of the also-rans.
There are some obvious reasons why this may be the case, primarily related to fragmentation. Looking at iOS and Android, these clearly have numbers on their side now, and momentum going forward. But what of the other platforms?
Windows Phone 7 is an unknown quantity, but will gain support from Nokia in the not-too-distant future. Momentum for BlackBerry has slid, but RIM is still shipping 13 million devices per quarter, and the platform has a significant installed base. Symbian OS is on its way out, but there is still a large installed base, Nokia is still shipping devices powered by the platform, and it is still a popular choice in many emerging markets.
HTML5 and its associated technologies potentially provide a way to address all of these devices and their owners, without the need to develop native apps for specific platforms. This enables developers to maximise their potential exposure, using programming tools and languages that many, if not all, are already familiar with. In addition, for non-traditional developers looking to join the mobile market, apps based on web technologies offer a less steep learning curve than some native languages, easing the process of deciding which development path to take.
Currently, however, mobile web apps still have a number of hurdles to overcome – and in many cases there is an overlap with the challenges faced with native apps. Primarily, developers still need to find an effective way to get apps to users, against a backdrop of competition from thousands of competing native and web products. Achieving this is a challenge in a world dominated by a number of app stores – the wider distribution options of web apps could make it even harder.
And developers also need to find a way to effectively monetise web apps. Apple has proved through its App Store and iOS in-app payment platform that customers will part with cash if the process is seamless enough. Google proved with Android Market that the opposite will happen if the payment process is too opaque (although it has worked to rectify this).
The editorial views expressed in this article are solely those of the author(s) and will not necessarily reflect the views of the GSMA, its Members or Associate Members