The Economics of Mobile Application Development

At last Thursday’s Mobilize conference the discussion started off with a round table focusing on “The Economics of (Mobile Application) Development.” At the end of this panel discussion which included talent from BlackBerry, the LiMo Foundation, Qualcomm, Adobe, & Windows Mobile the group concluded the following:

“That mobile applications will run primarily over the web versus being installed native to the device, applications will be available in a centralized area (like Apple’s App Store) versus a distributed model of distribution, most applications will be downloaded versus bundled with the device, mobile applications will be developed through businesses rather than through a consortium, & finally that applications will continue to be geared towards the consumer versus businesses.”

These predictions point to a couple of hurdles that in my opinion will continue to plague the mobile industry for many years to come.

The first hurdle is that there are far too many mobile operating systems & too few standards in this space. When a company or an application developer decides to develop a mobile application they are forced in most cases to pick a single operating system to use to develop their application because trying to keep up with the support & life-cycle of that application on 5+ mobile operating systems requires resources that many businesses & application developers simply don’t have to invest. As a result, businesses & application developers loose entire audiences because their application won’t be supported on a large majority of mobile devices running other mobile operating systems. Even with 5+ mobile operating systems; why can’t each mobile operating system adhere to some set of standards that would allow applications to seamlessly work across operating systems?

It is evident that device manufactures realize the control they’ll have when choosing a particular operating systems to run on their device. That is why there is such a race to gain market share now before the mobile market becomes even more saturated with additional mobile operating systems (note that Android from Google is being released this week). If these companies can’t work together on a set of standards for businesses & application developers to adhere to my hope is that we’ll see some device manufactures & mobile operating systems simply go away.

Secondly, mobile carriers still control too much of the equation. The mobile carriers have control of which devices they’ll allow on their network. They determine how the mobile applications will be distributed to the consumer; installed on the device prior to sale or forcing the consumer to download. The mobile carriers also control the costs associated with the network time (voice or data) that the application will require to use. All of these control factors make it very difficult for businesses & application developers to develop an application that is simple & affordable for the consumer to use.

While the mobile market is obviously exploding & “open” for growth, don’t be fooled to believe that there aren’t some significant hurdles for us to overcome in order to deliver a valuable solution to enterprises & consumers.

What is your opinion on these questions pertaining to the mobile market?

Applications will run: Native or Web?
Applications will be distributed: Centralized or Distributed?
Applications will be installed: Downloaded or Bundled?
Applications will be developed by: Businesses or Consortium?
Applications will be geared towards: Consumers or Businesses?

Brian Kirk
VP Business Development
NetworkIP & Jaduka

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