Mobile Application Fragmentation – The Harsh Truth

I have these talks time and time again with people about the state of application development in mobile.  It is hard.  No matter how many people get excited about the buzz of applications on the iPhone.. no matter how many developers want their applications in an app store and no matter how many people want to buy applications, this is a challenging space.

If you are looking for the best opportunity to make a difference in people’s mobile world, you have limited options.  Take away the discoverability of the apps.. and just looking at platforms.  Here is my view on top bets.


  1. Web-Kit HTML 5 based web-apps
  2. iPhone
  3. Android
  4. RIM
  5. Windows Mobile
  6. Palm Web OS
FUTURE (2-3 years)
  1. Web-Kit HTML 5 based web-apps
  2. Android
  3. iPhone
  4. Palm Web OS
  5. RIM
  6. Windows Mobile
Sure.. while I love the UI of a downloadable application, I think that pushing the envelope in the Web Application space has a better chance for daily high-value use.  Certain things limit you, sure.. but time to market, limitations in an app store, lack of installation.. all contribute to getting that customer use.  How do people find you?  You will definitely have to solve that problem.. but I still like this option best.

Android will overtake iPhone in the next few years with the way the app stores are panning out.  More manufacturers are developing handsets, new ideas are popping up all the time.  With the open-ness of Android, it does not have some of the limitations Apple is putting in place.  Developers still have the risk of fragmentation here, but I hope Google helps solve that at the OS level and leave the developers to solving problems for end users.

Palm Web OS is going to take better hold over time.  There are a plethora of developers that can develop for this platform with a low learning curve.  It will be interesting to see where this pans out.

Unless you are developing corporate applications for RIM or Windows Mobile, I would struggle to see where you will get much traction through those app stores.  Don’t get me wrong, I’d love to try to take on that challenge and see how it pans out.. but it will be tough for sure.

Anyway.. that is my $0.02 for where things are heading.  As an application developer, getting distribution scale is a challenge to make money. People are not used to paying for web-apps yet, although as they get better and have integrated off-line use, it will be an option.  I love applications, don’t get me wrong.  I just think it is a challenge for developers to pick a single platform to be successful.  Don’t spread yourself too thin.. it wont work.

One side note.. this is clearly a US focused post.. and not touching on Symbian, Samsungs new plans or even what Google is trying to do with “go”.  I am sure we will see more interesting things come up in the next 18-36 months.  OEMs, please reduce fragmentation.. don’t make it worse.