Not everyone has an iPhone 3

It seems that everyone wants to build an iPhone app. Barely a week goes by without another sensational statistic about the number of apps on the AppStore and how many of them use location and now the Android alternatives are mushrooming at an equal pace (or faster or slightly slower depending on who you believe) and Nokia are determined to get in on the act as well as Blackberry.

(cc) Image by Robert Occhialini

What prompted this post was stumbling on the neat looking StreetReport app for the iPhone which seems similar to the FixMyStreet app and uses the FixMyStreet API, there is also an Android app written by another developer. It made me wonder who will use these apps and perhaps who wouldn’t.

Problem 1 – you cannot run an application on all 3/4 platforms (Adobe thought they had come up with a solution but Apple soon kyboshed that!) so as a developer you are either going to have to  do quite a lot (a bit/ a heck of a lot/ a complete rewrite) or not bother to port your application to run on all or even most of the devices.

Problem 2 – masses/most people still do not have app ready phones and mobile broadband connections.

When I was working on the GeoVation Awards several of the finalists wanted to build apps that would run on the iPhone despite the fact that it restricted them to a small relatively affluent subset of the population, fine if you are loooking to make profits from that demographic and can convince them to pay for your app but perhaps questionable if you are trying to get widespread uptake of your application or are trying to meet a broad social need. For example an application targeted at school kids on an iPhone or an application to help people to report graffiti, potholes etc?

It seems to me that we are at a similar point to desktop application development 20/25 years ago with competing operating systems making it difficult if not impossible for developers to reach all of their potential users and a relatively small user base to support the competing platforms. It looks unlikely that any one mobile OS will achieve the dominance that Microsoft achieved on the desktop (I certainly hope not) and that presents a challenge to application developers.

Perhaps the solution is a move away from native apps towards running rich apps in a mobile browser (most so called “enterprise” applications already have already moved from the desktop to the browser). Then developers would need to develop mobile and full size browser versions of their apps but at least they would not have Apple or anyone else telling them what technology they need to use or what content is deemed appropriate and non competitive with the hardware vendor’s interests

I wont be surprised if several people rush to tell me why I have got this all wrong.

3 thoughts on “Not everyone has an iPhone

  • blabyboy

    hi Steven,
    “Perhaps the solution is a move away from native apps towards running rich apps in a mobile browser”

    Welcome to future of mobile app development. 🙂

    I really agree with your 6th para, the speed with which new features are added to grab headlines is quite stunning atm.

    In the mid to long term, the web app will win out. AFAIAA, all the main suppliers offer a browser that can implement the geo-location object and some already offer localStorage and appCache as well. Access to the camera and accelerometers are coming and work to reduce battery consumption due to javascript is at hand.

    The other problem of payments is perhaps where the next ‘killer’ solution will come. I have no idea, who might do this atm, PayPal are too untrustworthy IMHO. It needs some sort of standard, so dev’s can use a standard that can be offered by several suppliers. I guess the banks would be the obvious suppliers in one sense? ..but the merchant setup costs would need to be modified to make things like micro-payments viable.

    PPK has an interesting blog on why you should develop for B/berries instead of iPhones if you want to make £££’s (

    It’s an interesting area to watch and participate in for the next few years.

  • Rob

    I had thought if I was to rewrite my iPhone app then I might take the approach of writing a web app, for the reasons of cross browser support that you mention – especially with HTML geolocation support around the corner, but a couple of reasons why I’m holding fire for now…

    Firstly – Every browser (or browser engine) has a habit of implementing different parts of standards in different ways – essentially the problem is just pushed down to the browser (the reason for Flash success?). You start with a catch statement for IE, webkit, mozilla, etc., and then litter your code with special cases.

    Second – how do I make money? Now I sound very shallow 😉 But seriously, why did I pick to write an iPhone app in the first place? Well, I had actually written an app for my N95 a few years back, but I was the only person who used it, the big attraction to the iPhone was the brand I inherited (cheaply) and the micro payment and customer footfall Apple put in place for me.

    It’s the second point that makes me think, who can make micro payment for websites as easy as Apple do with the AppStore? Paypal doesn’t cut it, Rupert Murdoch is going to try this summer with the times (but I don’t think News Corp get the web), does it need to come from a browser (Goog, Msft)? Anyhow, off on a bit of a tangent there!

    • steven


      I did not mean to imply any criticism, just making an observation about the general obsession with the iPhone (which I have and adore and am about to buy another etc.)

      We need to have consistent implementation of mobile browsers so that behaviour is the same for all users.

      Making money from an app is not shallow and I agree that currently Apple has the best micropayments system about but that has got to change (someone will make a wadge of money from cracking this problem, maybe PayPal?)

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