This week we've got a special 5-part report for developers: we're assessing each of the five major smartphone and tablet app stores - iOS, Android, Windows Phone 7, BlackBerry and Nokia - and taking a look at the relative strengths and weaknesses of developing for each platform. Today, our introduction takes a look at the market generally, and we'll kick off our platform-specific focus with the app store that started it all: Apple.
Want to make your mark in the smartphone & tablet market, but not sure which platform to back? We assess the app stores from a developer’s perspective. Today: Apple's App Store.
It's understandable: with limited resources, you want to focus your energies on the part of the market that's likely to generate the best return on your efforts. And while Apple's App Store basically had the market to itself for the past few years, the choice has become more complicated recently.
Google's indomitable Android has been scoring one run after another, with Android-based smartphones flooding the market and tablets rapidly following suit; Microsoft's Windows Phone 7 has hit a running start and has the backing of the world's largest software company; Research In Motion continues to enjoy a strong following for its BlackBerry devices, and is about to try its hand at toppling the iPad with its PlayBook tablet. And Nokia, which some argue has made missteps in its recent strategy, remains a major mobile-phone supplier with tens of millions of users for whom you can write your applications.
App store watcher Distimo breaks down percentages of apps and how much they cost on average across the various platforms.
For many developers, the easy answer when considering platforms has been to write first for the iPhone, and expand from there. Yet while iPhone development offers real opportunities, it's also a sure-fire way to get lost in the crowd. For this reason, it's worth comparing the different app stores currently operating in the market, to see which offers the best opportunity for your great idea to gain critical mass.
Thanks to intense competition between smartphone operating system vendors, there are more resources, and better support, available to developers than ever before. Where the differences may really be felt, however, is in the outward support that the companies are providing for developers. This comes both in the form of hands-on, get-to-know-you developer forums like those hosted by Google and Research In Motion, and in the form of clearly-documented, approachable developer resources like Microsoft is offering to entice users to its Windows Phone 7 platform.
Signs are that Google, in particular, seems to be playing a tune that developers love to hear: the company's app store is more open and immediately accessible than its rivals, with a focus on collaborative development and the company providing a host of analytical support tools that let developers see just how their apps are doing. App numbers have skyrocketed in the past year, and the availability of the platform across a broader range of devices than the monolithic iPhone and iPad is providing new opportunities for developers to differentiate their apps.
"The more OEMs that sign up for Android, the quicker its growth will be," says Ovum analyst Nick Dillon. "It's giving people a cheaper alternative to the iPhone, and you're going to have wider price points as people seek to get that smartphone experience at a lower cost. Google has also catalysed developers well, identifying in the same way Apple did that developers are key for the platform's success."
While potential market size favours Apple's App Store and Google's Android Marketplace, there is also a financial argument to be made for targeting your apps to the right platform. For example, Distimo figures suggest that around 85% of paid Windows Phone 7 applications cost US$1.99 or less, with 13% between US$2 and US$4.99. By contrast, just 55% of BlackBerry apps cost US$1.99 or less, and around 20% are priced from US$5 to US$9.99.
These figures suggest that BlackBerry users are willing to pay more for quality apps (other app stores fall somewhere in between these two extremes). Another important trend is the higher prices being charged for iPad versions of apps that typically cost one-third as much on the iPhone alone. These buying patterns are just as important as sheer market size when considering the best target platforms, and highlight some of the many issues you must consider when choosing the best vehicle to realising your development dreams.
Platform #1: Apple’s App Store is the gold standardMore apps, more consumers, more millionaires minted, Apple’s App Store is king.
As the first major app store on the market, Apple’s App Store has long been the gold standard to which other platforms aspire. As any number of overnight millionaires have found, it’s all about numbers – around 7 billion downloads, 350,000 apps, and a base of devices numbered in the tens of millions.
But you need to consider that where there are lots of apps, there is lots of competition. The numbers of apps are increasing every day: 148apps.biz tracked 87 new games and 592 non-game apps for an average of 679 new apps submitted every day of November; a year earlier, this number was just 378. With the iPad and iPhone 4 raising awareness of Apple’s platform, expect these numbers to continue growing over time.
There's room for everybody in Apple's App Store, but competition is
fierce and it can be hard to make your app stand out. Unless it
absolutely rocks, of course – in which case, you might be one of the
lucky few on your way to your first million.
With so many apps to choose from, the half-life for enthusiasm over new apps is quite short and surveys have shown that it’s hard to expect a significant financial return from most apps: one survey
of 85 iPhone developers conducted last year, for example, found that just 5% had brought in more than US$15,000 from their apps, with one-third of developers earning less than US$250 for their efforts.
Still, the iPhone and related devices are the go-to targets for mobile developers these days; if you’re interested in making a career out of mobile development, you’ll probably need to learn to love iOS and the App Store. Granted, this can be hard: Apple approves every app, and every update, through a convoluted and poorly-understood process that has taken up to 40 days (but averages five) and famously claimed scalps from developers writing apps that duplicate existing functionality, or offer little apparent functionality, or implement iOS procedures incorrectly, or offend Apple’s sensibilities, or…
The list goes on and on. If you play by the rules and manage to get a bit of a vibe going, you may be able to make a bit of money – but it’s not easy without scale. App Store apps tend towards the low side, with 148apps.biz listing the average price of apps as US$2.80, games as US$1.13, and average overall price as US$2.57.
That makes development on the world’s most popular app store something of a craps shoot, with the odds definitely stacked against you from the start – and even more so if you're making a game, where prices are lower and competition tougher. Factor in the industry-standard 70/30 revenue share, and the numbers can be daunting.
Yet with so many Apple devices out there, you've also got a huge potential target market: recent MobClix figures found that iPhone users have an average of 28 apps on their phones, compared with 17 apps on Android phones. And iPhone users are 7 times more likely to shell out on in-app purchases than Android users; if you can build an app that's engaging, interesting and expandable, the App Store is the place to put it.
Programming for the iPhone requires skills in Objective C, although if you’re into programming this may be more of an inconvenience than a major obstacle. But when it comes down to it, you have to be in it to win it: if there isn’t already an app for what you’re thinking of, a bet on the Apple App Store may well be the best place to start.App Store:
Apple App StoreSupports:
iPhone, iPad, iPod touchLocation: Here
or via iTunes softwareNumber of apps:
350,000Number of developers:
53,000 (according to MobileDevHQ.com)Some popular apps:
Angry Birds, Flight Control, Fruit Ninja, Tap Tap Revenge, Rage HD, Pages Apps written in:
Objective CDeveloper tools: iOS Dev Center