UGH! 3 Million Platforms with 100 Users Each

Okay, I exaggerate a little. Okay, I exaggerate a lot. But the point should be well taken.

In essence, the PC was created in the late ’70s and by the early ’90s had two dominate operating systems. You either developed for Windows or Macintosh or both.

By all accounts the mobile world was created in the early ’90s and in 2007, about the same length of time as the PC world’s OS slimming, the number of operating systems is expanding, not shrinking.

Even as late as 2001 and 2002 it seemed the trend of less operating systems was taking hold. In that year, the Palm OS was on 85% of devices sold in the U.S. The other 15% was Pocket PC (now Windows Mobile Classic and Professional) and Symbian OS, a leader in Europe. Sometime in 2008 there will be no less than ten operating systems, and it doesn’t look like the splintering will end (in no particular order):

  1. Palm OS I
  2. Palm OS II (if Palm doesn’t cancel it)
  3. Windows Mobile Class and Professional (both based on Microsoft’s Pocket PC operating system)
  4. Windows Mobile Standard (based on Microsoft’s Smartphone operating system)
  5. Windows Vista and XP for very very small laptops and tablets
  6. Apple OS X version for portables (iPhone, iPod Touch)
  7. Symbian OS
  8. RIM’s BlackBerry operating system
  9. Google’s rumored operating system (if it is more than a rumor)
  10. Sun’s rumored Java OS (if it’s more than a rumor)

UGH! What’s a software developer to do? See Infinity Softworks has highly technical applications that are very difficult to port from one platform to another, all of which, in essence, uses different development tools and languages. And even if we could easily port the math engine for our applications, we would still have to re-develop the user interface, not a trivial task in and of itself.

So this is the problem that confronts me as I ponder the future for Infinity Softworks and how we move ahead. This is also why I am convinced that the company’s developing mobile applications specifically are almost all very small — the market is too fractured for big companies to dive in and make a profit. For years every penny we have made has been dumped into developing the next platform product instead of improving the products on the platforms we have.

And this is why Apple’s decision to release software tools for developers last week so we can write native applications for it is concerning me. Yes, I know, I blasted Apple earlier for this and now I am doing an about face. But over the past few months I have come to think of Apple as an innovator for software developers, someone who can finally force a mental change in developers and a mental change in consumers.

See, all of these devices have browsers and all of these devices connect to the web, whether cellular or wifi or both. Apple’s decision to force developers to write web-based applications that ran in the browser meant that consumers could only get applications this way. And for us developers we were finally freed of the multi-platform approach to writing applications and could focus on writing great products that ran in the browser instead.

Instead, Apple announced its software development kit for iPhone and iPod Touch and alas I am left to ponder the conundrum further.

I am longing for simpler days, when there were two or three platforms that I needed to care about. Maybe this will come some day again, maybe not. I thought Apple was going to help get us there sooner. I guess not.

17 thoughts on “UGH! 3 Million Platforms with 100 Users Each

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  2. You missed this. Symbian OS is still divided into different types of platform that are incompatible with each other:

    1. Symbian s40
    2. Symbian s60v1 & s60v2
    3. Symbian s60v3
    4. Symbian UIQ1 & UIQ2
    5. Symbian UIQ3

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  4. Surely the problem isnt as complex as you describe.

    There are 3 key dominant platforms worth developing for:

    S60 (Symbian based) with 75% of smartphone / consumer market
    RIM for the enterprise market
    Apple as the new entrant

    The rest (Palm, Pocket PC) are unsuccessful nodes in the mobile evolutionary tree. The challenge ofcourse as a mobile developer is to keep pace with evolution.

  5. And lets not forget the upside of all this evolution. Market size for smartphones is likely to be far bigger than handhelds market ever was.

    In the long term, market size for smartphones may exceed PC’s.

  6. Thanks for commenting.

    BoyBawang, thanks for filling in the Symbian picture. It is a lot deeper than just saying “Symbian OS”. If we add in all the “feature” phones — non smartphones — then we can add another 20 variations on top of this list.

    Anu, you may be right in the rest of the world — although I haven’t seen this data myself — but not here in the States. Symbian is a bit player here, not to mention that it is an amalgamate of various OS versions in and of itself.

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