Picking a Platform


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As a small startup we need to focus our efforts on building apps that will meet the customer’s needs but also let us stay within our abilities and resources. Supporting the growing number of mobile devices and platforms can put a stretch on our ability to generate profitable products. We’ve been thinking very carefully about how to handle the cost of supporting iOS vs Android and mobile phones vs tablets.

iOS and Android are very different operating systems. Each has their own programming language, different features and different UI conventions. We’ve been very interested in concentrating on Android, especially since the growth in devices using the OS has been very impressive. Android is also more hacker-friendly and frankly more geeky.

However, looking at various economic data, it is clear that Apple has figured out how to get much more money out of their ecosystem than Android. iOS apps make much more money than Android apps. In particular, iPad apps make the most money. This is likely to change over time since the growth in Android devices is now more than iOS, but until then iOS is going to stay the most profitable platform.

Also, Apple had a very good year with the first iPad. With the launch of iPad 2, this year looks like it is going to be even more successful. Even though the second generation iPad is just an upgrade on the first generation, it is the lack of competition that is going to make it a hit.

Android tablet manufacturers have missed a huge opportunity: they had the chance to release competitive products before the launch of iPad 2. However, they delivered tablets that were too expensive and didn’t have a UI that would challenge the iOS. Android Honeycomb has only recently been released and looks very promising. However, from reviews so far it seems that it was rushed into the market.

This is not just disappointing to us as Android supporters but it does force us to reconsider our strategy for which platforms to develop our apps. Looking at it from a purely economic point of view, we should be doing iOS apps and even more particularly we should be doing iPad apps.

However, we don’t want to abandon Android completely. We do believe that it has a bright future. So the strategy we are considering is using cross-platform development tools which allows us to write code once but then deploy it on various devices. (We considered HTML5, but it is still early days for that and there is a lack of full integration with device hardware capabilities.)

This means that we don’t incur the cost of having to learn two different programming languages for iOS and Android. But it does limit us to the abilities of the cross-platform tools. If the tools don’t support a particular feature then we are dependent on the tool developers to add that eventually. From the various tools we have looked at, it is quite common for these tools to have various limitations. They might not support all the latest features of the OS’s. Or they might have better support for one OS over the other. It seems that iOS usually have the best support.

The tools that we have looked at, like Corona, allow you to create some impressive games with very little coding effort. There is also an active community of developers that share advice and code. Also a couple of open source games have been developed and the code is a very good reference to start our own.

We have an idea for a mobile game and we have some particular multi-player requirements. Before we get too deeply invested in a cross-platform tool, we are going to do some prototyping to determine which tool will satisfy most of our needs.

Image courtesy of Flickr user Zanthia.

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