Developers Perspective: Strengths/Weaknesses of Mobile Platforms

In my last post, commenter David pointed out that Symbian OS controls the biggest slice of the smartphone pie but I never talk about that platform.

One hard won lesson over the years is that the platform with the biggest market share isn’t necessarily the best platform for development. And that’s why I rarely talk about Symbian. It’s not that I have some European bias or that I don’t want to develop for overseas markets, it’s that no one knows they have a Symbian device! And if the customer doesn’t know it then the developers can’t sell to them.

So I thought I’d do a little SWOT Analysis from a developers perspective on why each platform has and does not have merit. I’m going to focus this post on the S (strengths) and W (weaknesses) portion. I’ve written many times on various platforms O (opportunities) and T (threats). In alphabetical order:



  • Growing rapidly, lots of buzz
  • Multiple hardware partners (potentially more devices)
  • Deep-pocketed backer (Google) who sees this as strategic
  • Attracting name-brand developers
  • NDK supports C engine
  • On all carriers


  • Poor app store experience (hear say)
  • Customers aren’t buying tons of software yet
  • Development environment is Java (this is great if you are a Java developer but most of the mobile world is focused around C)



  • Strong growth, second largest smartphone OS sold
  • Entrenched in enterprise
  • On all carriers worldwide


  • Poor app store experience/not installed on all devices
  • Biggest sales to enterprise and consumers. Enterprise has devices locked down, consumers don’t buy software
  • Development environment is Java (this is great if you are a Java developer but most of the mobile world is focused around C)
  • Fundamentally two different operating systems between touch and non-touch devices

iPhone OS


  • Strong growth, not lacking for buzz
  • Controlled infrastucture means incredible user experience (easy to buy apps and install, syncs seamlessly with desktop, etc.)
  • Attracting name-brand developers
  • Development in C (or off-shoot anyway that supports ANSII C/C++)
  • Customers buying tons of software


  • Lengthy release cycles
  • Apps are really cheap and expectations are set
  • On only one carrier per country
  • App Store as only purchase location means limited means to market, apps easily lost in the noise



  • On more smartphones than any other operating system
  • Development in C
  • Multiple sales locations
  • On all carriers worldwide
  • Has leading hardware vendor (Nokia) backing it


  • Most users don’t know they have a Symbian device
  • Multiple versions of the OS makes development costlier



  • Development in standard web technologies with (rumor has it) the best mobile development environment
  • Moving to Verizon and AT&T this year
  • Very few developers


  • Minuscule market share
  • Very US centric at this point
  • Does the perception that Palm won’t survive turn into reality?
  • Very few name brand developers

Windows Mobile

  • Uh… hmmm…

The bottom line, to me, is that platforms like Windows Mobile and Symbian are hard on developers. There just isn’t the momentum, recognition to make that work. Android and iPhone are clearly outpacing everyone else at this point and generating the buzz. The platforms keep improving and changing. BlackBerry is border line. While it has lots of die-hard users, the app store experience is poor (mostly because it’s not pre-installed) and the customers aren’t buying en masse.

In my mind, webOS is a wild card. If the goal is to maximize revenue in 2010 and 2011, I’d look very closely at it. I think device sales are going to triple or quadruple with AT&T and Verizon on board. With all the buzz on iPhone and Android, and all that buzz attracting developers, a smaller pool might mean less competitors and higher prices, which in turn could translate to higher revenues.

Let’s be honest, though. We are talking about the potential to build small businesses. If you’re goal is to support a family, right on! This SWOT analysis is for you. If your goal is to build an Angel or VC fund-able business, focus on a more global approach that incorporates the web and how mobile is an extension. After 13 years, I just don’t see a big business for third-party developers writing only for the mobile device.

2 thoughts on “Developers Perspective: Strengths/Weaknesses of Mobile Platforms

  1. Info regarding iPhone.
    You wrote: “On only one carrier per country”
    This is true for many but not all countries. On the apple site you can get an overview.
    I hope we will get more carriers in Germany too.

    Interesting ideas due to software deveolpment for mobile devices.
    But I believe the market will grow and be pushed by Apple due to iPhones and iSlates / tablet-pc.


    • Good point regarding carriers. Also need to point out that Apple has put out the stops and is now releasing applications really fast. I expected two weeks for our new powerOne finance and real estate calculator and it went out in one day!


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