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Which Platform

Had an interesting time tonight at the XConomy Mobile Madness conference. I was invited to be a guest panelist in a forum titled “Mobile Smackdown”; the point of the forum was to debate the merits of various mobile platforms.

I was chosen to argue for the iPhone.

As far as mobile development platforms are concerned, I’m fairly agnostic. I’ve worked in Windows Mobile, Android and the iPhone, and can honestly say that each one of them has their merits. For me, its not the features of a development platform that decides whether or not I should be developing for it. Its the business case for that platform that makes a more compelling argument than the technology itself.

My team (iPhone) lost the debate. I really don’t like to argue. Its also really difficult to argue for a point that you don’t completely agree with. I can not claim that the iPhone is easier to develop for or a better platform for developers when I have enjoyed all that Android offers. The other teams made very good points about the closed nature of the iPhone as well as the strict approval process on the iTunes App Store. Apple has recently reversed its decision on many apps, and that has the effect of turning app developers away, as Android becomes more and more popular.

There were two audience participatory votes at tonight’s “smackdown”:

  • Which team presented their case the best
  • Regardless of the debate, which platform should developers target

I was not surprised by the answer to the first question; I’m pretty terrible at debate. The second answer surprised me though; the most hands went up for Android. I think there are a few reasons for this:

  • Its easy to get lost in the sea of 120,000+ apps, and independent developers are having and increasingly difficult time rising to the top of the iTunes App Store.
  • Android’s future looks bright, as more devices from multiple manufactures are deployed on multiple networks. The potential market for these devices are larger than a device from a single carrier on a single network (understanding of course the iPhone is on many networks throughout the world, but restricted to one carried in its most popular market, the U.S.).
  • Android is an easy platform for which to develop. Its Java.
  • Android apps can be distributed independently of the app store

While Android shows huge potential, there are more people downloading and actually paying for apps on the iPhone. This may change, but until it does, we need to consider the size of the market we want to enter with our apps vs. the difficultly of getting our apps discovered. It may be better to target an emerging market with fewer paying customers if they can actually find your app. But if it is an extremely unique and popular idea, your potential for revenue is still greater on the iPhone.

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