The winners and losers in the mobile platform wars

Published Feb 2012

In terms of sheer consumer growth, nothing matches the rise of tablets like the Apple iPad and Samsung Galaxy Tab. According to media reports, US tablet sales took just two years to reach 40 million units, a figure smartphones took seven years to reach. Ninety percent of that is apparently iPads. With the recent launch of the Amazon range of Android tablets, this growth is expected to accelerate even further. Smartphone sales are also accelerating. Half a billion of them were sold in 2011. Most analysts predict that Android will own the winner’s share with up to half the world’s smartphone market.

If Apple and Android are winning, who is losing? One bloodied victim is Nokia’s Symbian platform. From 2007 to 2010, Apple and Android quickly stole away large chunks of the smartphone market from the once pre-eminent Nokia. But today, Nokia is headed up by Stephen Elop, a former Microsoft exec who once commanded Microsoft’s Business Division. The Finnish ice-giant Nokia is now betting its future on being Microsoft’s mobile hardware partner for the rapid and widespread deployment of Windows Phone OS. Gartner expects Microsoft’s Windows Phone to have clawed back nearly 20% of the international market by 2015. Windows Phone’s growth is intimately, perhaps surgically, attached to the business and mobile partnership now forged between Microsoft and Nokia. The latest developments as at the beginning of 2012 have been promising with the Windows Phone-powered Nokia Lumia phones receiving rave reviews.

Developing mobile applications for the Windows Phone platform follows the same route as most other Microsoft technologies. You need Visual Studio plus the Windows Phone SDK. Development happens using either the Silverlight or XNA frameworks (Silverlight for apps and XNA mostly for games). The actual code can be written in any of the Visual Studio supported programming languages (C#, VB.NET, etc.) . Microsoft has made available a free version of their IDE to assist mobile developers with creating apps for their platform: Visual Studio 2010 Express for Windows Phone. Once developed, the apps can be published to Microsoft’s app store, called the Windows Phone Marketplace.

While the continued success of Android and iOS is pretty certain and Windows Phone possibly gaining some ground, the future of RIM’s BlackBerry OS is far less certain. Once the champion of state-of-the-art business smartphone “crackberries”, it seems as if RIM also neglected to notice the advancing shadow of Android and iOS. Secure in the bulletproof cladding of RIM’s much-lauded encryption capabilities, the Canadian company took a huge knock when its critical UK-based servers hit an IT-wobbly (politely excused as “a core switch failure”) in October 2011. The downtime sent millions of BlackBerry users offline when BlackBerry Messenger (BBM), email and web-based services all went deaf, dumb and mute for three days. Far more damaging, however, than the offline not-so-smart-phones was RIM’s complete failure to communicate with its users. In the age of instant Twitter and Facebook timeline updates, that has to be the definition of public relations suicide. The long-awaited BlackBerry Playbook tablet device was an embarrassing sales flop and RIM’s renewed hopes seem to rest on the success or failure of its next-generation BBX OS platform. And for amused onlookers, BBX (surprise, surprise) is looking very much like a hybrid mashup of iOS, Android and Windows Phone combined.

How does all of this affect us as mobile developers? Unfortunately, we developers are also on the losing end. The rise of Android and iOS, the new Windows Phone platform and the legacy BlackBerry userbase means that the number of platforms that developers and publishers have to target has proliferated. From an app development perspective, taking a cross-platform mobile application development approach really starts to make sense. Instead of building separately for each platform, you invest in a single development platform (HTML5) and then use platform publishing tools like PhoneGap to create native applications for each of the mobile platforms. Whilst still in its early stages we are already seeing some success with this approach. We’ll report back in future blog posts.

That concludes our three part history of the mobile landscape covering an overview of mobile development platforms, the rise of the iPhone and Android platforms and the mobile winners and losers which we’ve covered in this post.

Maxxor offers mobile development services to help enterprises to successfully communicate with and interact with their consumers. Check out our mobile portfolio or contact us to discuss your mobile development requirements.