Battle of the Mobile Operating Systems: A Challenge for App Developers

For consumers there are plenty of mobile operating systems (OS) to choose from, which can make it tough on developers of business apps. Such is life in the world of technology diversity.

From the consumer’s side of the fence, the choices are great. Take your pick of Apple’s iOS, multiple flavors of Android, Windows Phone, BlackBerry, and other new operating system offerings, such as Mozilla’s Firefox OS.

But for developers of business apps, all of these mobile technology options add up to one big headache. They must either support multiple operating systems or risk losing potential customers.

Covering the Waterfront

As Stephen Shankland reports on CNET, the diversity of mobile operating systems is great news for some companies. Appcelerator, a specialist in cross-platform development tools, is one of them, and it commissioned a study to find out just how much cross-platform development is going on.

The answer is a lot. The Appcelerator survey of programmers and development executives at 804 companies found that fewer than a quarter (23 percent) settle for a single platform. Another 11 percent support two platforms, while more than a third (34 percent) support three mobile operating systems. Rounding out the picture, 20 percent of firms provide their apps for four platforms, and 8 percent support five or more.

All this adds up to a challenge for app developers, as well as significant differences from the old wired Internet, where Microsoft Windows reigned supreme.

Win, Place, and Show?

Of course, mobile operating systems are not all equal in the eyes of app developers. The Appcelerator study also asked about developers’ priorities. No one should be surprised that Apple’s iOS came in at the top. Like Apple or hate them, the iPhone and iPad created the mobile marketplace as we know it, and 80 percent of those surveyed were “very interested” in developing for both platforms.

Android phones come in next, at 71 percent, while 59 percent are “very interested” in developing for Android tablets. But sneaking in at 60 percent is the HTML5 Web standard — not a mobile OS as such, but an equal-access tool for any mobile OS that supports it.

Then comes the Google Nexus at 40 percent, Windows phones at 26 percent, and on down to 6 percent for a BlackBerry tablet.

The mobile operating systems at the lower end of the list have a tough road to winning broad app support. But remember that fully 34 percent of all developers surveyed support three mobile operating systems, which means that the battle for third place is intense.

So if the mobile landscape evolves into a Big Three… which mobile OS will be the third?

Image courtesy of Flickr