Thursday, September 29, 2011

Publishing and Mobile Devices

I've been interested for a long time in writing applications that will provide some useful service on a mobile phone, and with the advent of smart-phones I get to explore this a little more. This got me to thinking about apps that run on smartphones and that are possibly useful to information customers - apps that a publisher might develop and deploy to their subscribers. And since I have a new Droid phone, I started doing some programming for that. But it begs an interesting question - what phone(s) should a publisher target in developing a new app?

Of course, this is heavily informed by the particular publishing sector and by the kind of information being published. Phones, with a small-ish form factor, will favor small units of data; pads would more readily support larger. In fact, the form factor on a pad (like the iPad) is such that simply using a browser in the pad to access the same publisher web resource that one would access via a computer is usually an acceptable user experience. So, if I were a publisher, trying to decide what phone to develop an app for first, what factors might influence my decision? Here's what's floating around in my head:

  1. Hard to ignore the overwhelming presence of the iPhone. Huge market penetration. But small form-factor. And it just plain pisses me off that I have to go through the iTunes marketplace and pay Apple a pound of flesh. It's my data after all! And I suspect most publishers are not really selling the app; they're selling content.
  2. Hard also to ignore the skyrocketing increase in iPads. Seems like everyone has one these days! Wish I did. And, given that the iPad runs the Safari browser (which is Webkit compliant), I can develop a variation of my website using an HTML5/CSS3 approach, host it on my own servers and not have to go through iTunes/Apple. More on Sencha/jQueryMobile/PhoneGap in another post... But if I need to create something that runs on the iPad, I run into the same iTunes/Apple question.
  3. Some of the stuff I'm reading indicates that the various Droid phones are increasing market share considerably. And I can develop an app for a Droid phone and distribute it myself without going through the Google market or, if I choose, I can go that route. 
  4. It seems that in certain market segments Blackberry is ubiquitous. Especially in the legal and lobbying worlds. As with the Droids, I like the fact that I can deploy an App frmo my own sites and am not forced to go through a marketplace. The small form-factor makes the BB somewhat limited for larger units of data and the differences between versions of BBs and the attendant differences in API support make BB develop somewhat challenging, although a cross-platform approach such as HTML5/CSS3/PhoneGap may limit those difficulties. OTOH, RIM is trying to shift to QNX and allow Droid apps to run on Blackberries. But when? And how long will it take for that upgrade to penetrate the marketplace. And a lot of the stuff I read indicates that RIM is losing market share. 
  5. And then there Microsoft. I sometimes think that if MS creates a phone that integrates seamlessly with their back-office servers (Exchange, Sharepoint, etc.), those would become the darlings of IT departments worldwide. Enough so that they could drive RIM out of that spot. But that hasn't happened and MS phones are distant cousins in terms of market share. 
  6. Kindle Fire? I love the idea and the price, but it means limiting app development to Android 2.2. We'll see!
So, I think I still have more questions than answers. And I know that some of this is a religious argument - I hear fans of the droids espousing their virtues over the iPhones and vice-versa.