A Closer Look at Mobile Apps

Developers Reconsider Multi-Platform Support with the Advent of HTML5

As Apple counts down to a whopping 25 billion downloads from its App Store, others are still trailing in its wake. Android Market comes close in terms of catalogue size and developer support, but the lion’s share of revenue is still being generated by iOS developers. Perhaps realising they can’t compete on size, some competitors have focussed on creating a vibrant platform for apps and content distribution in an effort to sell associated hardware.

At Mobile World Congress last week, we saw a huge focus on applications, probably more so than in previous years. In the App Planet section, Nokia, Samsung, Research In Motion and others held developer days to showcase their platforms. These three companies were hoping to gather much-needed support for, respectively, Windows Phone, Bada and BlackBerry, which all lag iOS and Android in the range of applications on offer.

Developers, content and media owners have some tough decisions to make. Supporting multiple platforms is costly. Creating a good application for one environment could cost a developer $50,000 or more. Porting it to other platforms may incur similar costs, with no guaranteed return. Recently I’ve noticed that developers are starting to get frustrated by the fragmented nature of Android and by Apple’s “walled garden” approach to apps, prompting many to rethink their approach to cross-platform support.

Perhaps inevitably, this put HTML5 high on the agenda at Mobile World Congress. However, the move to HTML5 raises an interesting question. Does it herald a shift in focus away from platform owners and toward content and media owners?

I think it does, in part, although in some areas nothing will replace the deeply integrated experience provided by a native app. Developers will need to consider what they want to achieve from an application — is it solely for marketing purposes, does it complement an existing offering, or is it something else?

How to generate revenue from apps was also discussed in Barcelona. Our research suggests the “freemium” model works well, and that in-app purchases are an essential element. Apple, for example, makes about two-thirds of its revenue in the App Store from applications with in-app purchase options.

We’ve been expanding our research coverage of mobile applications over the past few weeks. We plan to launch a global service in the next few weeks. Watch this space for more details.