Mobile app dev goes multiplatform

Research finds preferences for iPhone and Android and recommends multidevice strategy, but sees trouble for Java ME

Mobile application development has gone multiplatform, with Apple iPhone and Google Android the top preferences by developers, according to a Forrester Research report released late in 2010.

To avoid being overwhelmed by multiplatform complexity, Forrester recommends developers establish a multidevice strategy for both development and testing in 2011. Single-device support is giving way to multidevice accommodation, Forrester said. Multidevice shops are now in the majority, with one in four IT shops supporting all types of personal mobile devices employees bring to work. Some employers let employees choose from a list of approved devices and OSes.

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"The year 2010 was when mobile application development began crossing the chasm from early adopters to mainstream application development shops," said analyst Jeffrey Hammond in the report's executive summary, along with associates Mike Gilpin and Adam Knoll. "But what started as 'we need an iPhone app!' has now progressed to a multiple device and operating system reality. Our data shows that mobile developers are already supporting native applications on multiple platforms and that it's likely to get more complicated as tablets join mobile phones as new development targets."

Survey data shows a growing tide of mobile application development that is evolving in a very different direction than what long-term industry watchers might have predicted, Forrester reports. Shops typically have shown a desire to limit the number of devices they support, such as BlackBerry and Windows Mobile, Forrester said. "However, these shops are fighting a losing battle. Even companies that don't support a 'bring your own device to work' model are finding that they are getting more and more requests to support more than a single mobile operating system," said Forrester.

Meanwhile, mobile Web technologies, such as WAP (Wireless Application Protocol), XHTML-Mobile Profile, and Java ME (Micro Edition), are "fading fast," Forrester said. "Even though billions of devices support these technologies, they just aren't that appealing to developers anymore, and as the average replacement cycle for mobile devices is two years, phones with richer development frameworks and more compelling capabilities are likely to replace them," Forrester said. Developers, however, should be asked why they cannot build an application using Web technologies like HTML5.

In conversations with clients, the "big three" devices preferred include Apple iOS (iPhone and iPad), Android, and BlackBerry. Forrester found that only 28% of firms offer employees no choice in mobile devices, while 51% let at least some choose any mobile device. Forrester found that most developers choose native software development kits that mobile platform vendors provide. But mobile-optimized websites are becoming a popular alternative to native applications.

While the iPhone is the most popular target for mobile application developers by a small margin, followed by Android, RIM is struggling to keep developer attention, Forrester found. "It was a bit surprising to see that only about one in five developers is targeting BlackBerry devices as a platform for mobile development. This may auger a long-term challenge for RIM and its strong current position as the mobile device of choice in many enterprises," Forrester said. BlackBerry OS 6 devices, such as Torch, should catch the eye of developers building Web-optimized solutions, said Forrester. But RIM must do more to attract native application builders.

Meanwhile, Windows Phone and HP WebOS devices are likely to be added to the list of devices needing support by developers, Forrester said.

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This story, "Mobile app dev goes multiplatform" was originally published by InfoWorld.

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