July 21, 2009

Will Mobile Androids Eat Blackberries off Their Palm?

When it comes to mobile development, there are a lot of platform choices available to developers – iPhone, Android, BlackBerry, Palm Pre, Symbian, Windows Mobile … and given how many mobile platforms are out there, I might even have missed some 🙂 As a consumer, deciding what you want is simple enough – buy the applications for the platform that you use. But for a developer, the choice is a more complicated one. And I’m not sure that there are enough resources out there which cover all the relevant/important factors.

If you do a search, you’ll find that most articles are targeted towards a US audience – they talk of the mobile carrier (AT&T vs. Sprint vs. T-Mobile) or the number of handsets available for each carrier or of GSM vs. CDMA when it comes to carrier. But they leave out things like: are developers outside the US even able to get into the developer program for a specific platform? Sure, most of the consumers for mobile applications probably come from the US but developers are global. Whether you are in the US, Germany, Sudan, India, Sri Lanka, or Australia, a developer is a developer. We are a breed that likes to tinker, to experiment, to write code on platforms we haven’t explored before. So, shouldn’t somebody be considering the non-US developers as well?

Take Android, for instance. It might be hyped as the best thing since the immaculate birth of the iPhone, but for developers, as far as I can tell, Android is a closed shop – only those who can sign up for Google Checkout can get on the Android developer bandwagon and that lets out anybody who is not in the US or UK. At least, that’s what Google Checkout told me when I tried to sign up for one of their “merchant” accounts (or whatever it is that Google calls a Checkout account that is used to sell goods or services). Now I might be wrong since I haven’t done enough checking into this but the whole “US and UK” only thing puts a damper on my enthusiasm for Android development.

The iPhone on the other hand provides a developer program that you can sign up for quite easily. However, the market has been flooded with a plethora of useless apps coded in a matter of days (if not hours). Apple seems to have no real love for the developers developing for their platform, nor any desire to address any of their frequently voiced grievances. For the moment, Apple appears to be content to sit back on their laurels and play “Lord of Monopoly” with the poor deluded souls that are in search of the pot of gold at the end of the iTunes Store rainbow. So sure, you can get on the iPhone platform quite easily, but getting your app on the app store, (and making any real money) might be harder.

For some of the others, like BlackBerry, Symbian, and Windows Mobile, the whole app store concept is something that they came up with after the success of Apple’s own app store. Some are already in operation, others are planned or just getting started. However, they had other distribution mechanisms before that. So it’s not so bad for the developer in terms of how they distribute and sell their apps. Of course, again for non-US/European developers, it would be easier to have a central marketplace or store which sells their app for them and sends them the money. PayPal isn’t everywhere nor is accepting online payment as easy for developers in the rest of the world. Heck, I can’t get payment in any form except for a bank transfer over here!

So for most of us, a centralized app store which does all the e-commerce stuff is still a good idea. But of course, as I mentioned above, the playing field is never level and, ironically, if you’re not in the US, you’re usually shut out. And US developers are the one’s who least need these mechanisms since they can at least receive online payments via PayPal quite easily 🙂

But unfortunately, that’s how it is at the moment. There are those of us who would like to develop for other platforms besides the iPhone, which is becoming rather tiresome in their arbitrary (and often self-contradictory) decisions regarding what is allowed and what’s not on their app store. I wish some of the other platforms would get their act together and allow global access to their individual marketplaces as Apple does. This would at least give some of us more options and perhaps even make Apple re-consider how they administer their own app store and review apps. But for the time being, global developer choice is still a dream ….