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Can Microsoft or Blackberry break the iOS/Android Developer Stronghold?


by Ron Miller
Ness Blogger

BlackBerry and Microsoft's manufacturing partners have produced some compelling phones of late, but whether it will translate into phone sales is still unclear. One of the big driving success factors of any phone OS is how well developed the app ecosystem is and that requires an engaged developer community. So far at least, neither challenger has shown it can break the iOS/Android duopoly.

platform battle

Graphic by Tsahi Levent-Levi on Flickr. Used under Creative Commons SA license.

Not surprisingly, there is a connection between market share and the level of developer interest. Developers aren't stupid. They follow the money. 

A recent survey conducted by Vision Mobile really drove this home. For starters, Android, clearly the most popular phone OS, has drawn the most interest from developers with 72 percent now developing on the Android platform, up 4 percent from the 2012 survey.

While iOS dropped 5 points to 56 percent, Vision Mobile attributes the shift to an increase in mobile developers from Asia where Android has a strong market presence and a big population base. One interesting data point was HTML sitting at 50 percent. 

As for Windows Phone OS and BlackBerry OS? BlackBerry was stuck at 16 percent and Windows at 21 percent, both unchanged from last year.

Meanwhile, 74 percent of developers reported developing apps for 2 or more platforms, but as you would expect, iOS and Android were the most likely candidates here. In case you're wondering when it comes to prioritizing which platform to develop for first, in this instance, iOS is the winner with 42 percent reporting they develop for iOS followed by Android, probably due to the fact that developers tend to make more money on iOS.

developer platform popularity

Chart courtesy Vision Mobile

When BlackBerry made its big phone announcement yesterday, it went out of its way to trumpet the list of apps available out of the gate including Box, Evernote, Dropbox, Webex and of course the obligatory Angry Birds; but these are the developers with resources who want to be on every platform out there. The real measure of the platform popularity will come over time -- and if the overall developer mindshare can shift from those hardened market share positions.

The same goes for Microsoft, which of course has a head start with Windows Phone OS, yet doesn't seem to be able to move the needle much either. It too has the big players on board, but when I talk to people about phone choices, the perception is that there are not enough apps. Vision Mobile believes developers are waiting for the market to develop before fulling embracing, the platform, yet phone buyers seem to be waiting for the apps. Such a stalemate doesn't bode well for Microsoft, although Vision Mobile believe they have potential to do so because of their Windows market share.

The wild card here though is the growing smartphone market. This is not a fixed pie, and that means if it can grow, the potential is there for any of these companies (or others like Mozilla and Ubuntu for example) to gain market share. In fact, Vision Mobile reports the handset industry is growing at 23 percent CAGR and 700 million smartphones shipped in 2012. There is no reason to believe this trend will change -- but neither is there reason to be truly optimistic that the competition can break the iOS-Android one-two punch.

cell phone growth

Chart courtesy Vision Mobile

The survey was conducted over a 5 week period in October and November, 2012 and involved 3400 respondents from 95 countries, which is a fairly substantial and diverse sample.  

You should have a look at all the results because it's an intriguing survey, but the bottom line is developers are business people, and are for the most part no different from any other business, motivated by money and success -- and unless BlackBerry and Microsoft can find a way to lure users in much larger numbers to use their phones, getting developers on board is going to continue to be a major challenge for both companies.

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