Native Mobile Applications: An Ecosystem Overview

Morpheus Media, the digital media agency, is a monthly contributor to The Makegood. This column was composed by Ben Beyda, Associate Director, Mobile Strategy.

At this point in the evolution of the mobile marketing space, you’ve likely faced or are soon to face the decision of how to go about creating a native mobile application. And if so, you’ve probably also wondered for which operating system(s) you should be developing this app. Each of the four most popular operating systems (OS’s) – iOS, Android, Windows, and Blackberry – has its own pros and cons, distinct audiences, number of competing applications, and integrated hardware and features. Let’s take a quick look at some of the inherent differences between these native application ecosystems to help you decide where to start.

Windows’ phones have been around for years, but for the purpose of this post we’ll look at Windows 7 and 8, the two latest versions of the OS (note that Windows 8 is still very nascent). Combined, there are upwards of 100,000 Windows 7 and 8 applications*, according to various sources. While this relatively low number and resultant low competition provides brands an opportunity to maximize their exposure to Windows’ users, the potential reachis also small when compared to iOS and Android. While brands should certainly monitor the Windows’ space, they shouldn’t necessarily invest heavily on Windows’ app development at this time. Brands that place an importance on being first-to-market and want to capitalize on said low competition should create lightweight apps to test their performance and invest further if their target audience is using these devices.

The new Blackberry 10 (BB10), dubbed a potential “iPhone killer” by some industry publications, will be officially announced in a commercial during this year’s Super Bowl and is a wild card in this consideration set. Although it’s a brand new device and operating system, there should be over 15,000 applications at the time of launch. Similar to Windows, Blackberry also has a low number of competing applications, which is enticing for those brands that want to reach early adopters of the BB10. Apple and Google, however, have decimated Blackberry’s user base in the last five years. Not surprisingly, this migration has deterred many brands from investing in Blackberry app development. Assuming its new devices see traction with smartphone buyers, the Blackberry app space could prove desirable, especially for enterprise-centric brands. Blackberry has historically been heavily adopted by such businesses because of the platform’s high security. Blackberry faces an uphill battle to regain its lost market share though, and as such, its ability to compete remains uncertain.

Apple has the least fragmented ecosystem since developers only need to consider two primary devices (iPod/iPhone and iPad) and one primary version of the operating system, iOS (for the most part). In the last five years, the number of iOS device users has risen to approximately 150 million, depending on the source. Given the enormous popularity of Apple devices, there are over 700,000 applications available in the Apple App Store, making it a very congested space. The App Store’s high volume of apps, coupled with an extremely poor internal search engine, makes it very difficult for new entrants to gain immediate consumer exposure and downloads without a marketing strategy in place. On the other hand, the disproportionately high amount of historical information surrounding iOS app engagement and user demographics provides a sizable advantage to iOS developers. For example, studies such as Flurry’s “Matrix Reloaded” allow such developers to understand how their apps are faring against the competition. Ultimately, the iOS platform is a great place for brands to be, especially those trying to reach high-end consumers with an existing brand affinity. App developers entering the Apple ecosystem for the first time are well-advised to craft a marketing strategy at the outset to increase downloads around the initial launch. The App Store can potentially expose your app to millions of consumers, but it is all too easy for new applications to get lost without some foresight.

Google has the largest market share of mobile devices due to its open source OS. Many hardware manufacturers can install this system, which in turn has led to Android’s being the most fragmented application ecosystem. Baidu, China’s main web services company, for example, created its own version of the Android OS for the Chinese market; this differs considerably from the slew of other versions developed by companies around the world. Such fragmentation makes it extremely challenging for developers to create applications that work on all Android devices. To help visualize this problem, OpenSignal has posted some useful graphics.

Ensuring app compatibility on all Android devices is a tall order and requires developers to constantly monitor the ones their audience is using. While it’s true that native Android applications can expose brands to a wide audience, the fragmented ecosystem makes it hard to develop applications that work seamlessly for everyone. Brands that wish to develop native Android applications should identify the two or three most popular devices their consumers use and develop around those. Whenever possible, availability and ongoing support should be provided for as many Android devices and versions of the operating system as possible.

Native mobile applications are a great way to leverage the newest mobile technologies in order to create engaging experiences for users. After finalizing available budgets to create a native mobile application, the goals of the app, etc., brands must next determine which operating system to create an application for – Windows, Blackberry, iOS, or Android. Each platform has its own advantages and disadvantages that must be weighed by developers before moving forward with development. It’s currently easier to create an app for Windows or Blackberry that will stand out among the competition. On the other hand, Windows/Blackberry apps have significantly less reach next to Apple and Google, and it is uncertain whether Windows’ and Blackberry’s user bases will grow in the future. When all is said and done, iOS and Android may be the most advantageous operating systems to develop for first, given their adoption rates and history. Understanding which devices their target audience uses and the potential to compete will allow developers to make strategic decisions on which platform(s) to target.

*Update: there are currently over 40,000 Windows 8 applications as reported by PC World.

  • SBull26

    Great Article!

  • http://thomasgome.wordpress.com/2013/06/21/customers-will-enjoy-easy-to-use-iPhone-applications-thus-will-make-your-business-more-desirable-for-them/ Brendan Hayden

    iPhone app development will boost consumer knowledge. Additionally, consumers could acquire benefit from accessing your solutions in simple approaches.