What the Verizon iPhone means for developers

It's official: Verizon Wireless (NYSE:VZ) will launch a CDMA-based edition of Apple's (NASDAQ:AAPL) iPhone in February, bringing to an end months of speculation and quieting consumers who've pleaded for years for an alternative to AT&T (NYSE:T), the smartphone's exclusive U.S. carrier partner since its 2007 debut. Now that the Verizon iPhone is on its way, we can begin speculating on what it means for iOS developers. For starters, it means access to 93 million Verizon Wireless subscribers--analysts forecast the operator could sell as many as 15 million iPhones this year alone, substantially increasing the audience for iOS applications. Some developers also anticipate improved network performance--Smule co-founder Ge Wang tells Business Insider that he's most looking forward to superior, more reliable Internet access.

Much less certain is what the Verizon iPhone means for Google's (NASDAQ:GOOG) Android. Without direct competition from the iPhone, Android has flourished on the Verizon Wireless network: According to data published by research firm Gartner, Android phones represented between 75 percent and 80 percent of all Verizon smartphone sales in Q3 2010. As of November, Android now accounts for 26 percent of the U.S. smartphone market, a 6.4 percentage points leap over the previous three-month period, per digital research firm comScore--iOS is close behind at 25 percent market share, up 0.8 percentage points. (Research In Motion's [NASDAQ:RIMM] BlackBerry operating system continues to lead the U.S. market at 33.5 percent of subscribers, but its dominance is shrinking rapidly, decreasing 4.1 points over the previous three-month period.)

The Verizon iPhone undoubtedly will hinder Android's growth; the question is how much. "The installed base of smartphone subscribers is a small percentage of the installed based of mobile phone subscribers in the U.S.," Needham and Co. analyst Charlie Wolf tells All Things Digital. "Where the iPhone will have a dramatic impact is on the brand choices of feature phone users migrating to smartphones going forward. The iPhone will suck the wind out of Android's growth on Verizon."

No matter what happens, expect iOS developer competition to grow even fiercer. The App Store is closing in fast on the 10 billion download milestone, up from 3 billion in January 2010--according to market research firm Asymco, that's about 60 application downloads for each iOS device sold. New developers are already coming to the iPhone in droves, of course: As of this writing, the App Store's most popular Free App is Bubble Ball, the debut release from fledgling developer Nay Games, with 2 million downloads and counting. What's noteworthy about Nay Games is that founder Robert Nay is just 14 years old; he built Bubble Ball using Ansca Mobile's Corona SDK mobile development platform. Bubble Ball‘s success proves virtually anyone can develop a hit iOS app--and with the Verizon iPhone poised to launch the iOS platform to even greater heights, look for developers of all ages to try their luck. -Jason