Apple's mobile developer momentum open to challenge

Editor’s Note: This article is reprinted from InfoWorld. For more IT news, subscribe to the InfoWorld Daily newsletter.

While Apple has major momentum in the mobile application developer space, there is room for other companies to steal Apple’s thunder, according to an analyst report released earlier this month.

In Forrester Research report entitled “The Feeding Frenzy over the Mobile Developer Channel,” Forrester analysts led by Tim Harmon note the pros and cons of Apple and other vendors. The report focuses on the smartphone and tablet space.

“Apple has so much developer momentum in the mobile market that it would take a major fiasco to derail it, particularly in the smartphone segment.” But Apple took a long time to support Microsoft Exchange, and its iPad tablet lacks important interfaces such as USB ports. “Business application developers will be quick to embrace a second and third mobile OS option in order to hedge their bets against Apple’s consumer market focus.”

But if the mobile OS war can be compared to the PC OS war, Apple is the only sure bet, Forrester said. Contenders in the developer ecosystem currently include Apple (iOS), Google (Android), HP/Palm (WebOS), Microsoft (Windows Phone 7), and RIM (BlackBerry 6 OS). There will be three winners, according to Forrester.

Google is attracting developers but suffers from its “experimental culture,” Forrester said. “Largely because of the lack of a Wintel-like tax, Google’s open source Android OS has caught on with developers. But Google takes a ‘throw the spaghetti at the wall and see what sticks’ approach to many of its software platform releases. And some of Google’s offerings do indeed not stick, e.g., Google Wave.”

Microsoft also faces a challenge. “Of the players in the smartphone/tablet space, Microsoft has, by far, the largest developer channel. But, after years of misfiring on Windows Mobile, Microsoft will have to prove to developers that Windows Phone 7 is worth their attention and effort once more.”

RIM’s plan to utilize a different OS in its tablet than on its smartphones also is an issue. “Either continuing with two OSes or putting one out to pasture will create confusion in the developer community. If RIM is indeed going to sunset the BlackBerry OS, it needs to do so fast.” The RIM PlayBook tablet will use BlackBerry Tablet OS.

With its acquisition of Palm, HP has all form factors covered from servers down to smartphones and tablets. But HP faces obstacles as well, according to Forrester. “Indeed, HP has done little to demonstrate or indicate how it will integrate WebOS with Windows. Moreover, HP, historically, has never really understood the developer channel culture. On the other hand, Palm has a very energetic developer channel. However, HP has a lot of work to do to prove that it can leverage Palm’s developer channel culture.”

Forrester also cited a murky picture on a “killer app” for enterprise smartphones. “While traditional business applications (e.g., email, field service) rank high on customers’ investment radars, mobile OS vendors are looking for that next killer app.”

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