Mobile Platforms: Who's On Third? - InformationWeek
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Thomas Claburn
Thomas Claburn
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Mobile Platforms: Who's On Third?

If you made mobile development tools, which platform would be the third you supported? The first two choices are easy. The next one, not so much.

If you made mobile development tools, which platform would be the third you supported? The first two choices are easy. The next one, not so much.Apple's iOS and Google's Android, at least for mobile development in the U.S, are the obvious platforms to support. iOS is widely acknowledged as the mobile platform to beat. That's where the money is at the moment. Android is looking pretty good too. It's still rough around the edges and the Android Market isn't as easy to use as the iTunes App Store, but it's close enough that it's giving iOS a serious challenge.

The major cross-platform mobile development tool makers have already made this choice. Unity Technologies' Unity3D supports iPhone output and Android support is coming soon. Ansca Mobile's Corona compiles code for iPhone and Android, and Appelerator Titanium does too.

It's a no-brainer, really. In a two-horse race, you bet on both. But what next? Is there a third mobile smartphone platform worth supporting? If the major development tool makers make the same decision, that alone could decide the contest, by making it trivial to write for three mobile platforms at once and reinforcing the popularity of the third place contestant through the availability of apps.

The obvious contenders, in approximate order of developer appeal, are: RIM's BlackBerry, Microsoft's Windows 7 Phone, HP's webOS, Nokia's Symbian, and Samsung's Bada.

But each of the third place contenders faces problems. RIM is reportedly going to introduce a new operating system from QNX Software for its forthcoming BlackPad. While this may make sense in the long-term, transitions of this sort can often drive developers away. The worry is that the old BlackBerry OS will be neglected and the new one will fail to take off.

Perhaps more to the point, RIM has yet to make clear how it can reach beyond business customers. People may depend on their BlackBerries for e-mail but needing a BlackBerry to get business done isn't the same as lusting for the latest iPhone or Android phone.

RIM has a shot, but based on what I've heard, the company's developer outreach leaves something to be desired. One executive I spoke with recently found RIM's interest in getting partners to create developer tools to be underwhelming.

Microsoft has a vast networking of potential developers but Windows 7 Phone remains an unknown. The company hasn't yet shown any compelling new approach or technology. Though Windows 7 Phone puts Microsoft back in the race, it doesn't put it ahead of the pack. And absent some clear signal of potential, makers of developer tools may just decide to wait and see, ensuring that development for Apple and Android will remain easier.

HP recently made a beta of webOS 2.0 available and the features look promising. But I don't see a lot of webOS devices in the wild. HP clearly has some heavy marketing ahead of it.

As for Nokia and Symbian, it's not a good sign when you have to offer $10 million in cash and prizes to attract developers to your platform. With iOS, it's the other way round -- developers pay Apple for the opportunity to develop for the company's devices.

Samsung's Bada may be the platform to watch. It appears to be doing well in Europe and Samsung has the design chops to deliver appealing hardware.

There's another strategy beyond picking and choosing: Aim for everything. Rhomobile supports iPhone, Windows Mobile, RIM, Symbian and Android.

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