It is a tough technology race in the mobile software business that have been ongoing since the early years of applications for mobile devices. I have been developing mobile applications for several years and asked my self many times; who will win this race? After all these years I still ask my selves (and others) the same question, I guess that is why I enjoy this business so much
I were asked at work today if I could help contributing on a presentation about mobile application trends, therefore I will write some of my thoughts regarding to this. The technologies I find most interesting are: Android, iPhone, Java ME, Symbian and Windows Mobile. Let’s have a closer look at these.
This is a software platform and operating system based on the Linux kernel. Android were announced in 2007 by Google but are now owned and founded by the Open Handset Alliance. This technology is quite new and the first official handset have just reached the markets. I think that with the smooth design, open source licensing, Google and several large manufactures behind this will be a technology to recon with in the future. Android have already a large amount of developers and applications in their community. It will be very interesting to follow Android and see what kind of market shares they will be able to get in the next years.
Apple Inc. almost revolutionized the mobile application market when they came with their very smoothly designed applications and a superior multi-touch screen and gestures. They soon became very popular and their genius AppStore accelerated the mobile application sale for the iPhone. There have been developed lots of applications for iPhone and they reached over 1 million applications in their AppStore recently. I don’t think they will dominate the mobile application market in quantity since the technology is only used by iPhone and the platform is far from open. But by all means I think they still will dominate regarding to quality and user experience. They are running on the iPhone operating system, based on the Mach kernel. Will iPhone be able to take a larger market share in the enterprise market in the future? One thing is for sure Apple Inc. sure knows how to set a trend and make their products an image icon.
Java ME (J2ME)
This is a subset of the Java platform and are designed by Sun Microsystems. The big advantage with Java ME is that it can run on almost every device no matter what operating system or manufacture behind, the only thing you need is a Java virtual machine on the device (this is pre-installed on most of the devices out there). The disadvantage is that when running a Java ME application you are running in a “sandbox” and it’s hard to interact with the phone OS specific functions (this can be done by API). In 2006 the Java ME source code were licenced under GNU General Public License under the project name phoneME. I think that Java ME will continue to be big because of their “cross platform” capabilities, especially on consumer applications were a wide device supporting is crucial. It will be interesting to see if anything new happens after Oracle acquired Sun earlier this month.
This is a proprietary operating system developed by Symbian Ltd which were a partnership between Nokia, Ericsson, Motorola and Psion. In 2008 Nokia acquired all shares and founded Symbian Foundation. Symbian code are written in C++, with different platforms with their own SDK (UIQ and S60). Symbian is the leading operating system in the smart phone market not a big surprise since Nokia are dominating this market. I think that there will be a much harder competition for Nokia in this market the following years. Symbian is known for being quite hard and time consuming to develop applications with, leading to rather expensive development costs…
This is a compact operating system in the Windows CE operating system family. There have been a lot of Windows Mobile versions, currently they are running on WM 6.1 and WM 6.5 is just around the corner. Windows Mobile code are written with C#.Net using Compact framework which is a subset of C#.Net. Microsoft are doing several interesting things in the mobile market these days; announcing Market Place (Software as a Service, like AppStore) and My phone (a cloud computing service). Windows Mobile applications are also quite easy to integrate with other MS products (E-mail, calendar, contacts, organizer, MS SQL and so on…). I think that Windows Mobile will have a leading role in the future, especially within large enterprise applications and complex mobile solutions.
These are the five big ones as I see it and I think we will see a lot of applications from all these in the future. I think that Windows Mobile will dominate the enterprise market and that Java ME, iPhone and Android will mainly be seen in the consumer market. I will not be surprised if Android manage to establish in the enterprise market as well in the future. Off course you will find all these technologies in both consumer and enterprise markets. What about Symbian? I don’t really know, you can for sure do amazing thing with Symbian but I’m afraid that it will be too complex developing Symbian applications compared to the other technologies. It will be interesting to see what Symbian Foundation can do about that.
BREW can also be counted with but I don’t think that they will be large enough to compete with the five above. It will be interesting to see what happens when Flash Lite are integrated as a supported user interface, announced by Adobe and Qualcomm early in 2008.
Hybrid browser-application technologies
It will be very exciting to see what happens with hybrid browser-application in the future. I think this can be a great success if it can contribute to cross-platform support. There are several different technologies like JavaFX, Ajax, FlashLite and Silverlight. The largest problem in the mobile application business today, as I see it, is the device fragmentation.
Distributing mobile application will be made much easier the coming years since most of the technology providers are focusing on SaaS with their respective application stores. I also think that in the future you will find a lot more pre-installed applications bundled with your mobile device when you buy it. The mobile device hardware are getting more and more similar (many components are probably being produced at the same factories) and I think the devices with the best software will be the most sold devices in the future.
One thing is for sure, we will see a lot of great mobile applications in the future (probably a lot of not so great too) and the technology will continue evolving. Who will win the mobile technology race? I’m not sure except from my thoughts above. Do you know?