A developer’s perspective on the mobile ecosystem

How does the mobility landscape look from the mobile developer’s perspective these days? Exciting, motivating, promising, confusing, fragmented, all of the above? Let’s take a look.

Mobile, mobile, mobile

It is a no brainer today (and not news) that mobility is exploding in both the consumer and enterprise markets. Smartphones have paved the way, tablets/slates are following (or should I say are pushing very hard!), laptops are becoming ultra-portables and new form factors appear every day: smartphones attached in the back of a touch screen to make a slate, Touch screen detaching from a laptop keyboard to become a slate, …). Just take a look at gadget sites like Engadget or TechCrunch… You can also take a look at what was demonstrated and announced recently at CES in Las Vegas and see how many of the devices and services consumers are now interested in are mobile-related… almost 100%!!

Enterprises are also going mobile (once again, this is not news). Employees travel more; they need to access their corporate information and data while roaming. They use different types of devices and will be willing to compromise less and less. I have heard the term “consumerization of IT” many times and I think this describes what is going on pretty well. “Why should I use a different device than my personal latest generation smartphone or tablet to access my corporate information?”

Another couple of trends that are interesting to look at are the fast growth of the Cloud and its services, along with the acceleration of the Internet connectivity and enlargement of available bandwidth on the go or outside of work (at work too BTW). A connected mobile device can now not only access the Internet, but it can also access Cloud services. You can now do a lot of things securely and comfortably from your smartphone, your slate or your laptop. As a matter of fact, there is a rule that applies here that my kids know very well: “The more you get, the more you want”.

So yeah, the consumer and enterprise businesses are really becoming mobile (the trend was initiated some years ago, but it is actually gaining momentum now).

Some mobility keywords: differentiation, fragmentation

Now, let’s look more closely at the mobility market and, as mentioned earlier, bearing in mind that mobility is no longer just about accessing email and passing phone calls. Devices are now expected to access the Internet, allow services consumption, have an optimized user experience, connect with other devices, run various types of applications, play different media (music, video, …), and so on… And while all the players are surfing the same trends, they are all doing it in different ways:

  • Different OS’s: we see different major OSs in the mobile space such as Windows Phone, iOS, Android, Blackberry, Symbian, WebOS.
  • Different User Experiences: different designs are implemented to please end users, simpler, more integrated, more intuitive, icons vs. tiles …
  • Different business models: some device manufacturers develop their own OS, others work with OS vendors.
  • Different application platforms: these are different from one OS to another, coming with specific tools, specific development languages and optimized APIs, while mobile browsers are based on different engines more or less Standards compliant.
  • Different application distribution models and monetization models: with regards to how applications and services are distributed and sold to customers, there are once again diverse approaches: closely controlled, open …
  • Different backend platforms: as mentioned earlier, mobile applications are now connected and most of the time need to connect, interact, and sync with some backend, web services, Cloud services, which happen to be as varied as mobile platforms, if not more.

“Different” is good as it offers the end user a wider range of choice. It also helps push all the players to deliver better experiences to their customers as a way to differentiate. However on the other side of the coin are possibilities like fragmentation (said like this, it is scary, right?).

Charlie Kindel, in a recent article, was discussing the mobile platform fragmentation and described what he thinks are the 5 axes of this fragmentation: User Interface, Device, Operating System, Marketplace and Service (I highly recommend reading this article, it is very instructive).

In another article Charlie breaks the mobile ecosystem into its market components: Developers, Users, Carriers, Device Manufacturers and OS Providers. There is certainly a chicken and egg situation here: is it the fact that each of these components has its own objectives that leads to fragmentation, or is it the other way around? I will not attempt to answer this question as solving this “Ultimate Question of Life, The Universe and Everything” would not help (knowing the answer is 42 wouldn’t help much either, right?).

Fragmentation is a fact and the different actors in the mobile space have to cope with it. And when you consider developing a mobile application or solution, you will have to ask yourself a long series of questions before starting work…

… I will try and list some of these questions… in my next post Smile