Market penetration, monetization matter most on mobile

Jason Ankeny

Forget technological innovation--it's market penetration that matters most to mobile developers. More than 75 percent of developers cite addressable market and monetization potential as the most significant reasons they've chosen to focus their efforts on a particular mobile platform, according to research and advisory firm Vision Mobile's new Mobile Developer Economics 2010 survey; from there, it's probably no surprise to discover that almost 60 percent of the 400-plus respondents say they've recently written for Android, followed by iPhone (about 50 percent). Growing interest in Android and iPhone corresponds with "mindshare migration" away from incumbent platforms like Symbian, Java ME and Windows Phone, but Vision Mobile notes there is a strong disconnect between mindshare and the addressable market--while Symbian is deployed across roughly 390 million handsets, developers are writing 30 times the number of applications for Apple's iOS, which boasts an installed base of about 60 million (not including iPod touch or iPad units).

The release of the Vision Mobile report coincides with a provocative blog post from Nokia's new head of mobile solutions Anssi Vanjoki, who vows the struggling handset maker isn't going down without a fight. "Over the coming months, we'll be advancing current projects and working to simplify the way we work in order to deliver products and services faster, and with a laser focus on quality," Vanjoki writes. "I am committed, perhaps even obsessed, with getting Nokia back to being number one in high-end devices." Denying Nokia has any plans to introduce its own Android-powered device, Vanjoki proclaims Symbian and MeeGo "the best software for our smartest devices," and reiterates that Symbian remains the company's platform of choice for its smartphones. Vanjoki also plays the market share card, reminding developers that Symbian still accounts for more than 40 percent of smartphones worldwide. "People want a smartphone that is familiar, packed with features, offers great performance," he adds. "With products like the N8 and others to follow, we have preserved the best and most familiar parts of Symbian, making it effortless for the largest population of smartphone users to upgrade."

But the Vision Mobile survey suggests Symbian's market share advantage can't make up for the challenges facing developers struggling to learn the platform--according to the report, coders require 15 months or more to figure out Symbian, compared to an average of 7.5 months across rival platforms. Android is considered the easiest platform to learn, with 22 percent of respondents claiming they absorbed its intricacies in under a month. Not to mention that Symbian development requires more effort than its counterparts--per Vision Mobile, a Symbian developer must write almost three times more code than an Android developer, while iPhone's drag and drop design environment demands half as much code authoring as Symbian. Nokia may have no plans to introduce an Android device, but if the company is truly serious about recapturing the attention of the developer community, it's clear those plans are going to have to change. -Jason