Not everyone has an iPhone

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.

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