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Why iPhone is destined to dominate Android and BlackBerry in the market

One of the most common debates among smart phone cognoscenti is which platform will prevail — BlackBerry, Symbian, iPhone, Microsoft, or the latest entrant Android? Common thought is that the platform with the most developers will win, and currently that’s iPhone.  Many folks, however, having drunk the “open” kool-aid, believe that ultimately Android must win. Others point to the dominant market share already garnered by RIM in North America, and Symbian in other parts of the world, and say that developers will flock to those platforms by virtue of the fact that they represent the largest monetizable market.

So who’s right?

Commercial developers are looking for three things when they choose a platform.  These are:

  1. A large and well defined market.
  2. An efficient channel to reach that market.
  3. A low cost to develop products for that market.

If you look at the history of the PC market, Microsoft’s Windows had all of those characteristics.  The PC market was large and well defined, Microsoft and it’s partners created retail channels to deliver products, the Windows SDK’s were cheap, and Windows was sufficiently well developed that it made the job of develop for the platform efficient, fast, and inexpensive.

In the world of mobile operating systems, although SDK’s were cheap, until now the channel to market was the carrier, and a multitude of platforms and form factors drove costs up.  Things have been changing, but the lessons haven’t been internalized by all the vendors yet.

Let’s look at the top players in the market today – BlackBerry, Android and iPhone.

BlackBerry

  • The largest market. 
  • The channel to reach the market is unclear, however.  BlackBerry AppWorld is a good thing, but developers can still choose to go with the carrier store, or distribute directly.  Choice is good, isn’t it?  Unfortunately no.  From a customer perspective having to search for an application in multiple locations is a poor experience.
  • The cost to develop for the BlackBerry market is driven up substantially by the plethora of form factors, and the differing versions of the operating systems on the handset.  It’s common for BlackBerry’s sold to AT&T to have a different version of the OS than BlackBerry’s sold to Rogers or Orange, despite the fact that the model number may be the same.  The test matrix for BlackBerry is daunting except for the largest commercial developers.

Android

  • A nascent market, but potentially very large.
  • Like BlackBerry, Android has multiple stores available to it.  Again, paradoxically, channel choice does not necessarily make for a good customer experience or an efficient way for a developer to get to market.
  • Like BlackBerry, Android devices are anything but uniform.  As open source, vendors can choose any form factor, and combination of features.  All of this makes for a headache for software developers.

iPhone

  • A large market, although not the largest.
  • A single store, making for a very well defined and efficient way to market, as well as an easy experience for the customer.  Developers products have a better change of being found by the customer on the AppStore.
  • Low cost to develop. iPhone and iPod touch have essentially the same operating system, and most users upgrade to the latest version quickly via iTunes. Platform homogeneity means that developers can count on a given set of features being available, and execute against a single test platform.  Costs are dramatically lower as a result.

The homogeneity of the iPhone platform and channel is a huge advantage from a developers perspective.  As a result of the low cost associated with developing for iPhone, we should expect that developers will target iPhone first with new products.   If products are successful there, then expect to see them ported to other leading platforms.

And if you’re RIM or Google, perhaps it’s time to rethink elements of your strategy that drive costs for developers up.  Otherwise, innovation will flourish on the iPhone platform, and Apple will garner dominant share as a result.

{ 8 comments… add one }

  • Ken Camp January 24, 2010, 7:04 pm

    Good talking points for a detailed conversation. I'll try to jump into it sometime this week. Deep in a next generation network architecture project and that's where most of my brain cells have been spent lately. And having missed the debate/discussion that fueled this, I'd like to see some other folk's thoughts before I jump in and say things already said.

  • Sam Aparicio January 24, 2010, 7:22 pm

    A couple of other factors that I consider very important are: 1) simplicity of adoption of the SDK by developers and 2) control over the distribution.

    By those measures, Android should score higher, as there are more Java developers trained than in any other language available for development of mobile applications and, unlike the iPhone, there is no highly idiosincratic and somewhat arrogant company waving veto power over whether users get to try one's work or not.

    The advent of VMs, whether it'd be Javascript or Flash, and of cross-platform toolkits such as Jeff Haynie's Appcelerator is bound to erode or eliminate much of the competitive advantage of one specific platform for developers.

    Personally, I think that the mobile market does not follow winner-takes-all. Several platforms will continue to thrive, new players will come to preeminence since there are multiple ways to be successful. Apple will feel pressure to try other form factors, will have to support multiple carriers in the same market and that will require them to deal with the same kind of complexities than the other manufacturers have to.

    • Alec January 25, 2010, 1:50 am

      I think I disagree with you on the strategic value of VMs and cross platform tools Sam. Historically, the vendors of VMs have always touted those advantages, but serious developers have focused on platforms that give access to the native capabilities of the device. Why? Platform vendors focus on delivering the most complete user experience possible on the platform, and are first to market exposing those capabilities to developers.

  • David Beckemeyer January 25, 2010, 9:24 am

    There are Blackberry apps? But seriously, most BB users don't even know there is a way to install apps.

    I agree with your points and analysis. Android and Google's strategy are not "different" enough yet. Google cannot win with their normal arrogance here. They need to play to their strengths instead of playing head-to-head on Apple's turf, where they will lose. Just as Apple didn't play Nokia's game they invented a new game – Google has to now do that to Apple to win.

  • Stuart Henshall January 25, 2010, 9:31 am

    Nokia??? I can forgive you for overlooking Microsoft.

  • Sheryl Breuker January 25, 2010, 12:21 pm

    My 2 cents, though it wasn't asked for is that regardless of the arguments for or against, Apple has done something to create a new way of thinking about how content is delivered and seriously provided a way to give us true mobility on the way to the future of whatever we call the next devices that serve up data/voice/text.

    I don't think even apple had any idea how important their app store would be. Nokia had touch devices in the consumer market first, but they failed to put their package together in a way that made it all seem easy. Worse, they alienated everyone along that nonsensical path.

    Rim had a couple of strengths that have not been capitalized on for much the same reason Nokia's weren't. Propietary software that is device specific makes it really difficult for the rest of the world to play with. Rim has also rested on it's laurels, so to speak, not addressing it's lousy browser issues soon enough. What Blackberry can do well, is for the rest of the world of smart phone users not easily seen. My son just got given my blackberry bold as I shifted to an iphone. He was SHOCKED at how easy and FUN it is to use. He had no idea because they don't market it as a fun tool. They likely never will.

    Anyway, I think Apple will definitely be the frontrunner for where our future devices will be. Will they always be the cool kids on the block? Probably not but they are for now and now is all that is guaranteed in technology.

  • Alvin February 2, 2010, 5:24 pm

    Only after Apple's app store's success other companies have realized the potential of available software. Although only few people admit, app store is one of the main reason behind Iphone's success.

  • PHenry February 19, 2010, 10:30 am

    Interesting how you ignored your former employer (MS LOL). Lately, I've been evaluating the whole mobile market as well (from a developers perspective). I wrote a blog with a grid/matrix with similar conclusions to you.
    http://www.pchenry.com/Home/tabid/36/EntryID/236/

    With MS' announcement this week (http://www.pchenry.com/Home/tabid/36/EntryID/239/Default.aspx) about the WP7, I was left very underwhelmed. We will HOPEFULLY find out more information at MIX in March, but is MS latest effort too little, too late? What are your thoughts on that?

    Thank you for your analysis, you hilighted a few points I didn't realized but make perfect sense after reading your blog. Thanks.

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