How to Choose the Best Platform for Your App
You're in a technology business--or you simply want to utilize the marketing potential of mobile. But what platform will you pick? Apple's iOS? Google Android? Microsoft Windows Phone? The decision can be a tough one, as Cheezburger Network can attest.
Chances are you're familiar with Cheezburger, even if you don't realize it. It owns the site I Can Has Cheezburger?, the source of more cute pet humor than most people could handle in a day, as well as more than a dozen other websites. But for all its popularity and success--16 million unique monthly visitors--the company is small, with only 85 employees, and has limited resources. It simply cannot develop specialty apps for the iPhone and Android and Windows Phone and BlackBerry.
So, go with the obvious platform choices? The problem is that, increasingly, there is nothing obvious or given about mobile. Oh, sure, Apple has a single platform that works across all its iPhones and iPads. But what if you and Apple aren't meant to be Business Friends Forever? You can't find out until after you've developed and submitted the app. If Apple decides that it doesn't want to put your app into its store, you're now out the investment because you're contractually prohibited from distributing it in other ways, even if there were alternative markets.
Even if you get a foot in the door at first, there may be a parting of the ways, as companies that have written app-discovery engines seem to be finding. Other types of apps have also found themselves eventually tossed out of the App Store and Apple's good graces.
There's always Android. But once again, maybe yes, maybe no. Vendors have far more flexibility in how they implement Android and even what version they use. Look at apps on the Google Play store and you'll often find complaints about how software works on some devices but not others. And that's with those devices that focus on running Android. Move to Amazon's Kindle Fire tablets and you might have significant rework on your hands. You might need to do a lot of tweaking to make your software work on a group of them.
Then you get into the realms of Windows Phone, BlackBerry, Symbian, and other platforms that have smaller market share. Microsoft is putting big bucks into backing Windows Phone, which convinced Cheezburger to take the app plunge and be an early adopter. But you're likely not going to see the marketing support for the others.
The HTML 5 grind
HTML 5 apps running on compatible browsers offer the promise of cross-platform development because they should, in theory, run on any platform that supports the Web standard. Except, companies have seen wildly different results. Facebook tried and gave up because the performance was abysmally slow. And yet, the Financial Times finds that the technology works just fine for its strategy. Plus, if Apple boots you out of the App Store, you can still use HTML 5 to create an app that your customers can use.
There is no simple answer or checklist. You have to understand how the following factors affect you:
- Your need for a mobile app
- Where your users can be found
- Development resources available to you
- Required complexity of the app
- Likelihood of being frozen out of a given platform
- Time-to-market implications
You'll need to juggle all these constraints to understand where your company comes out and what your mobile strategy should be.
ERIK SHERMAN | Columnist
Erik Sherman's work has appeared in such publications as The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times Magazine, and Fortune. He also blogs for CBS MoneyWatch.