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Too Many Mobile OS's Limiting Development For Companies

Yesterday Yahoo! terminated the beta program for its Yahoo! Mobile for smartphones product. It will instead turn its attentions to the iPhone platform. All other mobile operating systems will have to settle with a web based app rather than a native client for Yahoo! Mobile.
Yesterday Yahoo! terminated the beta program for its Yahoo! Mobile for smartphones product. It will instead turn its attentions to the iPhone platform. All other mobile operating systems will have to settle with a web based app rather than a native client for Yahoo! Mobile.This is part of the statement from a Yahoo! spokesman:


We are reprioritizing some products to help us better deliver the best possible experiences to consumers on mobile. To streamline our services, we will not develop Yahoo! Mobile for smartphones to focus our efforts on mobilizing Yahoo!, improving Yahoo! Mobile for web and Yahoo! Mobile for iPhone as well as developing new and engaging experiences for consumers, partners and advertisers.

So two flavors of Yahoo! Mobile, one for the iPhone and one for everyone else. Some web sites can be fairly impressive, but very few can compare to the speed and smoothness of a native application. Native apps though generally cost more to develop and multiple native apps certainly cost more to update with new features as code can rarely be used across multiple platforms.

Blackberry, Windows Mobile, WebOS, Symbian, iPhone, Android - at least six mobile platforms. To make matters more complex, Windows Mobile has two variants - touchscreen (Professional) and non-touchscreen (Standard). Blackberry and Symbian also have some fragmentation and except for the iPhone and Pre (Palm's first WebOS device), all of the platforms have multiple devices that have different screen sizes and devices with and without physical keyboards. I am sure WebOS will be on multiple devices if the Pre is moderately successful and some day, Apple will declare that the time for the keyboard on a mobile phone has come and release an iPhone with one.

My point is, there are a bewildering number of platforms and variations within the platforms to develop for. Enterprises will take the easy way out and just stick to one platform and a precious few models. Software developers that are selling their apps will have to have enough penetration for each platform to make development worthwhile. Each platform requires its own development team or at least a dedicated development process that takes time away from other supported platforms. For those giving apps away to promote their real product, they will do it as cost effectively as possible.

While phone carriers may support six or more mobile platforms, I am not sure the software industry will. Can you imagine if there were six desktop platforms? As popular as OS-X is, the overwhelming majority of software vendors develop exclusively for Windows because it has the most share. Yahoo effectively just did the same thing with the iPhone. Even though the iPhone isn't the leader in market share by any stretch of the imagination, their user base is large and has installed over one billion apps since the App Store launched. I don't have stats to support this, but given what I've seen around my office with other smartphone platforms, I'd say the iPhone is possibly the leader in market share for user installed apps. That is the market Yahoo! is going for and the rest of us get a web page.

How long before other developers follow that pattern, or drop support for a platform altogether just to save on development costs?

Update: I clarified in the first paragraph that the program Yahoo is dropping is Yahoo! Mobile for all platforms except the iPhone, not just the Blackberry, and replacing it with a web based app. Yahoo! has other products and services for many of these platforms and will continue to develop those.

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