App Development Fragmentation

Last May I asked the following question in a Techvibes article entitled Turning a Triple Play. 

Why has Google announced apps and market places for phones and televisions and not computers?

The article asked why app developers were being constrained to mobile development and monetization opportunities (App Stores) by Google and Apple. I concluded that Google and Apple were fragmenting the development landscape, not just between competitors, but within each of their own ecosystems. At the time, Apple had just released the iPad and created development and monetization opportunities aligned well with iPhone’s iOS and iTunes App Store. However, Apple had not done so with its Apple TV or Mac products and Google was even more fragmented.

Six months later, Steve Jobs, fresh off his announcement of a Mac App Store (due in early 2011), talked about the fragmented Google and RIM development and monetization ecosystems. In particular Jobs attacked Google for having 4 different app stores, 244 handset versions based on Android, and its treatment of developers that would like to take advantage of the Google’s increasing market share in mobile phones. Easy for Jobs to claim he is right and others are wrong, some estimates have iTunes app market share at 99.4% in 2009. Others suggest it is more like 25%.

So, let’s update the Triple Play Scoreboard.

Google has announced or released 4 different development environments and operating systems for 4 different devices – mobile, tablet, computer, and television. A developer hoping to take advantage of any cohesiveness in this strategy will be challenged with the diversity of development environments and lack of successful monetization platforms, i.e. app stores. This is not to mention that mobile developers deal with significant compatibility issues between brands of mobile phones, i.e. HTC, Motorola.

Google is hoping for a strike out, but Apple has a couple of runners on base (iPhone and iPad).

Apple has iOS on three device types and Mac OS on computers. It has released app stores for mobile and tablet and announced its Mac App Store for computers. Developers have clear monetization on Apple’s very successful iTunes App Store and could see more with Mac App Store. AppleTV runs same OS as iPad, so it is likely just a matter of time before the release of an AppleTV App Store.

Apple is at the pitcher’s mound ready to turn a triple play, but on the fast ball will only be able to turn a double. If they announce an Apple TV App Store knuckle ball they turn the triple and could strike out Google TV.

RIM is actually even more fragmented than Google and Apple and unless they make a trade may not score another run. Blackberry has no fewer than 3 operating systems on 2 device types they are encouraging developers to use and have not demonstrated they can compete with the iTunes App Store.

RIM hit a home run in the 1st inning. Now they have the bottom of the line-up at bat, the iPad pitching, the iPhone behind the plate, and Android covering the 3rd base line, the RIM Playbook bunt is not likely to get into the mid-field.

What do developers need? They need Google, Apple, RIM and others to load the bases so that developers just have to hit a single to knock in a few runs. This is important, the development landscape is more fragmented than it has ever been. At a recent conference I spoke to a developer of a very popular weather app. He told me they develop their single app for 33 different operating systems, app stores, and devices. This would include ecosystems like Microsoft and Samsung, where additional development environments would need to be learned and maintained, but app store adoption is still very low or not even offered.

Samsung is extremely interesting. They are the leading TV manufacturer worldwide and have recently released an app store for the living room. SDKs for Samsung’s Smart TV and set-top boxes are available today. They sell a lot of cell phones and have released a tablet. If they can gain the attention of developers (and keep it) they will sell even more.

The following table shows that Google is telling developers 4 different things on 4 different devices; Apple is not without fragmentation with iOS not running on Macs and vice versa; and, of course, RIM was telling developers at their recent developer’s conference about 3 different development environments on two devices (one of which is months away from release).