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So, You Want to Create a Mobile App?

As more and more businesses are providing mobile applications to their customers, and costumers are using an increasing number of mobile devices, it becomes even more complicated for a companies to figure out which platforms they should develop their app for. There is no way for one app to work across multiple devices. Here’s how to narrow your options.

The need for businesses to “go mobile” is certainly not a secret anymore. As the world of smart phones and tablet PCs grows, so does the need to reach those potential clients or customers. For many years, businesses concentrated on optimizing their website for mobile browsers. But as many are already aware, mobile applications are the next step toward maximizing an online presence. The problem, however, is that the people companies want to reach are all using different devices. Unlike mobile-optimized websites, which are accessible on most mobile browsers, applications must be developed individually for each platform.

With iPhones, Android devices and Blackberries each holding such a large share of the market, not to mention up-and-comers like Windows, businesses must think thoroughly about their mobile strategy before the app development process begins. Each phone’s platform and development process certainly has pros and cons, so it’s up to the company to determine which device gives them the most bang for their buck.

Generally, when a mobile app discussion begins, the first questions revolve around iPhone and Android. These two devices have emerged as the big players in the smart phone market. Regardless of which platform is targeted first, it is almost assumed if a business plans to build a mobile app, they will develop for at least both of those. But which is best? That’s still up for debate.

iPhone Focus On User, Not Developer

iPhone as a brand carries a lot of panache. Companies will need to identify if their desired application is not only a functional application, but also a statement of technical edginess. If so, then it’s likely they would find success with this platform. But if the company is more focused on hitting a larger margin of people or on reduced cost of platform development, then Android may be the way to go. This is because Apple, from a development standpoint, is not as developer friendly. Apple has never thought of the developer as the most important person; the user is. So in their eternal quest for speed and reduced battery consumption, they force developers into a third generation language that doesn’t have all of the bells and whistles of a java or .net. So overall, for those set on developing for iPhone, they can expect a higher cost and a longer process than with other platforms.

Android All-Around Strong

Android, meanwhile, is quickly becoming the mobile industry leader, growing exponentially in both the number of users and available applications over the past 10-12 months. They have a very solid development environment. The tooling is good and there are some open source options, with varying degrees of support. One of the potential downsides for Android is that the operating system is open source. Because of this, each phone vendor could have their own slightly unique twist. But this is not a significant issue so far and overall, having an Android app is quickly becoming a must.

Blackberry Bombing

Blackberry, on the other hand, is trending in the wrong direction. Their app market is quickly falling behind because of its challenging development environment. Because Blackberry features versions with a track ball, touch pad and full touch screen, separate applications must be developed for each device. This can get very costly and is why companies are more inclined to avoid Blackberry all together. They did recently try to address this issue with their release of the Playbook tablet PC, which essentially allows the phones to run Android apps. But it’s a terrible time to look like you’ve lost a step. And unfortunately for RIM, they are now competing with juggernauts like Apple, Google, and Microsoft. The Blackberry development tool and its user experience aren’t keeping up.

Windows on Way Up

Windows is the up-and-comer of the group. They have a solid development eco-structure and with some of the announcements of what will be available in the next release, Microsoft is in a strong position to go to the next level. Windows just might have the right mix of control over the platform while allowing developers to create the applications they want to. Just like their desktop software, Microsoft provides the hooks into their OS but at the same time they don’t allow others to modify the core platform. Also, Microsoft has a nation of developers just waiting to use Visual Studio to create new and exciting applications. Due to the maturity of and the features afforded by Visual Studio, developers are able to create an application in less than half the time it takes to develop for iPhone.

So what’s the downside to Microsoft? They are late to the party. But I think the Xbox story can tell you that you should never count Microsoft out. The race has only just begun.

Making the right decision comes down to determining who businesses are trying to reach and how they would like to interact with them. Cost will certainly play a part in the decision but it’s up to each company to determine which mobile device offers the best returns. What we do know is that “going mobile” will only become more popular as the smart phone and tablet PC industry progress. Businesses looking for a better way to reach their customers should discuss their options with a developer now.

Environment User Adoption Development Brand Approval Process Cool Factor
iPhone High Decent High Rigorous Cool Cool
Android High Good High Relaxed Nerd Cool
Windows Low Awesome Upward Relaxed Low
Blackberry High, but aging Terrible Downward Non-existent Grandpa

Cutline: There is no easy answer to which phones a company should answer for. But these are certainly a few factors business leaders should keep in mind. Based on these issues, the platforms are listed from the best to worst development options according to Adage Technologies.

About Patrick Emmons

Patrick Emmons is co-founder of Adage Technologies and a technical architect with more than 15 years of programming and web development experience. Prior to Adage, he was a principle for another web development firm and also worked as a developer and consultant for Ameritech, Motorola and Baker Robbins.