The platform wars go local


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The Android and iOS duopoly commands the attention of both developers and consumers and remains firmly established. However, the platform wars are not over.

On a global level Microsoft is still fighting to build a sustainable third ecosystem and making some headway with developers, 28% of whom now adopt the platform, despite failing to make significant device market share gains. The mobile computing market is so much bigger than any before it, that even a tiny share of the market represents an installed base that is too large for developers with global ambitions to ignore. Apps aiming for maximum reach with an advertising- supported business model, or social apps depending on network effects target any platform with the potential for tens of millions of users. At the same time, these global apps are now a table stake for new platforms. A platform without WhatsApp or Instagram, for example, will struggle to gain acceptance in many countries.

Developer attention consolidates

The problem for any platform wanting to challenge the duopoly appears at a regional or local level. This is also the level at which the battle between Android and iOS continues. With global apps available on all platforms, the strongest differentiators becomes the niche and local apps. In order to compete with their peers, these smaller developers increasingly choose to focus on fewer platforms.

The average number of platforms a developer targets has fallen from 2.9 a year ago, through 2.5 in our Q1 report to 2.2 in this survey. If we exclude games developers (see chapter 6) the average number of platforms targeted is just 1.75 with 43% of those only targeting 1 platform. Developer mindshare for iOS is down slightly over the last 6 months but this is not fewer developers making the platform their primary target, just fewer choosing to support both Android and iOS. In most local markets developer mindshare is related to platform market share, with a bias towards iOS due to its disproportionate share of the high-end customers – latest official figures imply that the average iOS user is worth 4 Android users in terms of store revenues. Eastern Europe and the former CIS is an interesting exception to this rule; Android has a massive majority of device sales locally, yet 38% of developers prefer iOS, exporting their apps to wealthy western markets. Russia in particular has a high concentration of Hunters, developers seeking direct revenues from the app economy, combining their excellent technical skills and lower living costs to compete for direct revenues on the App Store. In a world where the developers that differentiate platforms now focus on only the top 1 or 2 platforms in their region, challenger platforms don’t stand much chance of growing their market share.

Windows Phone hanging on, BlackBerry 10 sees weaker traction

BlackBerry 10 has been hit hardest here as they attempted to sell premium devices without a broad selection of valuable local content and services. Without significant device sales, developer mindshare has fallen to just 11%. They have now decided to ship their devices with Amazon’s App Store, moving the focus of their developer outreach to enterprise and Internet of Things offerings.

In contrast, Microsoft has been able to gain some traction with lower cost devices aiming at first-time smartphone buyers with a trusted brand device, offering a superior overall experience to a comparably priced Android device. The problem with this low-end device strategy is that these users don’t spend as much on apps and are less attractive to brand advertisers, which in turn makes them an unattractive target for developers. With Google having launched the Android One initiative to provide a quality Android experience in emerging markets at under $100, Microsoft’s window of opportunity here may be closing. They are up against formidable network effects that make it impossible to win the race with money alone.

HTML5 developers are abandoning the browser

Web technologies have had a very bad year in the battle for developer mindshare. In our last survey (Q1 2014) we asked developers if they used HTML5 as a platform to target mobile devices. We also asked how they used the technology: 37% of HTML5 developers were building websites or web apps and a further 15% built hybrid apps or used tools like Appcelerator Titanium to build native apps with JavaScript. Since HTML5 is a set of technologies and the browser is the distribution platform, this time we asked developers if they targeted the mobile browser as a platform. We also asked about the programming languages developers use. The result is that only 15% of developers are targeting mobile browsers and a total of 42% are using HTML, CSS & JavaScript at all. It’s now clear that the majority of developers using web technologies are not targeting mobile browsers. Although there are still a lot of hybrid app developers, the overall proportion of developers using HTML5 on mobile devices is falling, both through those switching to native code and new entrants adopting native platforms.

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