I don’t normally care about Apple’s iAd.
Last night however, I was musing about how I intensely dislike the advertising industry and by extrapolation all businesses that are primarily ad-revenue based (Google, Facebook etc).
Witness what Twitter is doing to its user base and partners for just the most recent exposition of the direct conflict with user interests that advertising presents. Or Google’s recent addition of advertising images to the top of image search results.
As for iAd, I thought it was a pretty good idea when they introduced it. As good as advertising can get. Big budget, high quality ads for premium brands. Perfect Apple bedfellows.
It’s OK, I have two sets of flameproof clothing on.
Further to my contribution to the everlasting mobile web apps vs native debate I was discussing these issues again with good friend Richard (who is truly called a platform ninja), and again cropped up the “why is a tablet different from a desktop then? why is native better for tablets and not desktop?” question.
This is a rant about the Web vs. Native debate in mobile.
I’m very squarely on the “Native is best” side. Obviously if you don’t have the funds/expertise to make a native app then you’ll choose web – but I would wager this is only viable if you don’t actually want to make money out of the app. Unless you have some amazingly compelling content (like pictures of naked people) that can not be got at by native means.
I’m lucky to be out of mobile phone development now. I spent about 2 years coding J2ME games for a wide range of handsets and as anybody who has done it knows, its really shitty. This is because J2ME has standard APIs, but implementations vary in quality, nuance and in some cases downright fail to meet spec. Not to mention all the phones have different API sets and hardware abilities, input methods, screen sizes that vary wildly etc. Oh and I forgot – bugs across different firmware versions of the same handset – users without iPhones being unlikely to upgrade firmware as it is likely non-trivial / not handed to them on a plate.
I’m an iPhone fan, because iPhone makes mobile phones not suck. That’s all I cared about when I got one.
If I was an active phone developer now, I’d be very happy to dev exclusively for iPhone because of the tools and APIs and low variance in standard hardware. Issues about app store review policy notwithstanding (that’s a serious problem that has to be, and I think will be resolved). If you write good apps there’s easily a big enough market size already to make some good money.
Anyway last night I read this Fake Steve Jobs piece – ever sharp: Developers only now realising that Android is not a platform
You see when writing mobile apps the number of handsets you have to port to and test with (requires owning the phone typically) is key to your financial bottom line. Mobile operators want/force you to make sure your app supports a wide range of their crappy handsets, even if you will sell 1 copy of your app per year on that handset.
Because it is a phone there are few apps for or it has their logo on the phone, you have to support it.
You have to waste days debugging memory use issues – often across many different handsets
You have to waste days working out why your colours are coming out wrong on a crappy handset that has sold in high volumes and has a CPU so slow your game is barely playable.
You have to test every feature of your game/app to completion, with lengthy usage tests, incoming call issues etc to be sure it will not fall over / frustrate the user after a while. A quick flick through = poor QA.
The cost and effort behind this is immense and in many cases a complete waste of time. Generally speaking as a mobile dev you want to target the smallest number of phones that give you the biggest market share of people who actually pay for downloaded apps.
Now even with a unified “app store” for Android, you’ll still have to pander to these same requirements even if there is no network operator standing in your way. Because to make money, you have to follow the high volume handsets. Earth to those new to mobile dev: the highest volume handsets are very rarely the most capable or attractive from a development perspective. After the market matures, the highest volume will be in the cheapest/most subsidized handsets. This will likely be operator-badged “plastic-extruded turd with calculator buttons on” handsets.
This is why the FSJ post is right on the money. The higher iPhone market share grows – and the more global it becomes, because this is a double whammy compared to j2me dev with no mainsteam cross-phone app marketplace – the more attractive iPhone dev becomes. It is just easier to make more money there.
You have effectively one target device (ipod touch may not have mic and no phone but that’s it, 3gs has… compass oooh) and a clean reliable platform. Even firmware issues are almost removed because Apple/iTunes make it so trivial for people to update.
Contrast this with Android. From what I have read, it seems the O/S is not a rigid guaranteed platform like iPhone OS, and of course it is targetted at the mass market of phones. This will mean that the capabilities and APIs and quality of implementations will vary across all the handsets – just like in your old enemy J2ME.
High volume phone makers will try to shoehorn Android into as little RAM and CPU as they can, with the cheapest acceptable screen they can (who cares if everything looks a bit yellow!), to hit the lowest price point to make their handset the most attractive to the network operators so they can hit high subsidised sale volumes. If there’s some problem with a part of an API – maybe the CPU is too slow to do it, or the GPU can’t handle it, or the screen is “4.5-bit CMYK” colour as opposed to 24-bit RGB, they will just cut a corner/break compromise that API and almost certainly not document this. It is commercial reality. It is the classic design down to a price, not up to a standard.
J2ME suffered exactly this problem and Sun couldn’t fix it even though they had a licensing scheme for the VM. Because Google has open sourced Android, I don’t see how they’re going to be able to introduce a “Google Certified Android” standard that requires complete TCK success for all Android deployments.
As such, mobile devs on Android are doomed to the same existence they’ve had for a decade on J2ME.
Each new Android handset means another target to test, often requiring you to buy the handset contract free (ouch!), and the diminishing returns as the market is flooded with new handsets each garnering less of the market for your app.
Of course you’ll still be coding Android apps because manufacturers will be running to unite under an “iPhone beating OS”. Really, all that’s changed is you’re coding to Android APIs instead of J2ME.
I don’t mean to say Android won’t be successful. iPhone OS will not be “the” dominant OS in the mobile phone market any time soon, maybe never.
The thing Android devs have to fear is this: the mass market success of Android. Why? Because the mass market success = high volume = cheap crap phone, not a smartphone. That is where the money will be for Android apps, and guess what – its going to be really pretty ugly. You’ll make a “reference port” on your high end Android handset with touch and lots of RAM and great performance, and then have to downshift everything to the shitsville high volume ones.
So in terms of small developers making money off their apps, I’m very confident the ROI on iPhone will be far more favourable.
Let the big guys deal with the horror of porting and QA teams for all the Android stuff.
Oh, and wait it remains to be proven that Android users will actually pay for apps in any quantity. Apple creates an environment of value where people understand that, generally speaking, you get what you pay for. As FSJ often says… “freetards” don’t get this.
UPDATE: Oh look what just hit the news… one of (if not the) biggest J2ME game devs is scaling back their Android efforts. “It is not as neatly done as on the iPhone. Google has not been very good to entice customers to actually buy products. On Android nobody is making significant revenue,” AKA “freetard” attitude = no money for developers.