Smartphone Development Is More Than Just iPhone

Although it's clear that the iPhone platform is still the place to be for mobile developers, results from a recent Ovum survey indicate that there's a lot of development activity around all the major platforms, including -- somewhat surprisingly -- Microsoft and BlackBerry, often perceived to be  the stragglers bringing up the rear.

Ovum Principal Analyst Tony Cripps was quoted in a blog entry as saying that "while all five major smartphone platforms score well, it is BlackBerry OS and Windows Mobile that currently lead the opposition, rather than Android or Symbian."

By "opposition," Cripps means non-iPhone (and now iPad) development. Ovum surveyed 217 mobile application developers and found that 81 percent are working on iPhone apps -- or planning to do so. That continues to be where the money is, but developers know it's not the only game in town.

RIM's BlackBerry OS and Microsoft's Windows Phone 7 OS take second and third place, respectively, with 74 percent and 66 percent of shops building apps for them. Android comes next, at 64 percent, and Symbian, the OS for Nokia phones, brings up the rear of the "big five" at 56 percent. Symbian's last-place finish is also a surprise, given that it has the largest installed base and highest shipments of any smartphone platform, according to Ovum.

"Over the last year or so, it's been perceived that Microsoft and Symbian had been a little bit left behind in public perception of those platforms," Cripps says, "and [there is] linkage between consumer acceptance of a platform and developer acceptance of that platform. The iPhone shows that." But even though the iPhone remains king, the other major platforms are still thriving. That's one indication of how big the market is.

One interesting finding of the survey, Cripps says, is that application development companies tend to develop around similar groups of platforms. The majority that develop for iPhone, for example, also tend to develop applications for both Google's Android and BlackBerry. A smaller number of companies develop for four or more platforms, and very few have the financial and manpower resources to develop for as many as six platforms, according to Cripps.

That's been a big help for BlackBerry, Cripps says. "It's piggybacking on the success of the iPhone. If developers are writing for one [platform], chances are they're writing for Android and BlackBerry as well."

BlackBerry's success hasn't been all about riding iPhone's coattails, however. Cripps says he was surprised at "How well BlackBerry came out of this. It's not just enterprise apps it's being used for." RIM's recently-stated goal of being more consumer-friendly and not just a business phone has "come true," Cripps says. "RIM deserves credit here. Its showing is surprisingly good."

Things aren't so rosy for platforms out of the top five. For instance, Palm can't seem to get much traction around its Pre smartphone. "It doesn't look great either for palm or any other smartphone beyond the top five as things stand," Cripps says. "To rise above will require significant investment in developing products and convincing developers to build an ecosystem around it."

About the Author

Keith Ward is the editor in chief of Virtualization & Cloud Review. Follow him on Twitter @VirtReviewKeith.