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Hype driving iPhone/smartphone app development

Posted October 15th, 2010 by

Me too!

Building mobile apps is a hype-based decision, and Apple is the one generating this hype. It is not a business decision. Apple has made it super easy to make featureless mobile apps, most of which are just mobile web views. In fact, by removing the ability of 3rd parties to innovate using their SDK, they are ensuring that this is the case. Most iPhone apps on the App Store are simplistic, meaning they don’t really do anything interesting, and don’t take advantage of the iPhone’s capabilities. Companies are doing the least amount of work and building the simplest app they can,  just to be part of the hype.

The simplistic iPhone apps most companies make are just an attempt to be part of the cool crowd and the hype. They are not a commitment to mobile, and don’t involve any real risk, investment, or foresight. iPhone development is so easy that many web developers are able to create simple web view “mobile apps” and this is good enough for most companies because they just need something to show to be part of the crowd. There is no business model, pricing structure, or notion of ROI and sustainability. And there doesn’t need to be because it just about saying “me too” and being part of the hype crowd.

Mobile is still very new, and not “proven out” enough for most companies to make a real commitment to hire or train people, or outsource mobile development to specialized companies like ours. Most people follow the trends and do not set the trends, and they don’t look ahead and make choices that will pay off big in years to come. This is why only a hand full of companies such as ScreamingToaster, Amazon, Google, and Microsoft understand that cloud-connected mobile multiplatform experiences are where the future is at, and show commitment by developing new platforms and technologies to create this vision of mobile computing. This is the anti-hype.

Hype-based decision vs. business decision

The hype-based decision and the ultra-low barrier to entry with iPhone mobile development is why all companies start out with iPhone and not Android, or BlackBerry. Android development is much more complex than iPhone development, and BlackBerry development is extremely difficult and an impossibility for most companies. This is why there are only a handful of companies with BlackBerry apps and lots of companies with iPhone apps. If mobile was a  business decision and not a hype-based decision, companies would clearly choose platforms in the following order:

  1. Android as their primary smartphone platform to develop on due to its huge growth trend, and support on all carriers.
  2. The BlackBerry platform would be a logical second platform to expand to after Android, because it has the largest smartphone/mobile marketshare with 31%.
  3. iPhone as their last choice due to its growth slow down and carrier exclusion, despite the hype generated by the blogosphere and Mac nutjobs.


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Let’s dispel the myth that mobile development is ‘EASY’, beginner-friendly, and suited for ‘web developers’. This is marketing crap and media hype. Mobile development is VERY difficult – it’s much more difficult and more complicated than web or server app development. If you have experience in web or server app development, this experience will NOT help you with mobile. Sample code from open source projects, tutorials, and books will not come close to getting your team ready for the minefield that is mobile development, deployment, and testing. The code your developers have copied and pasted might simply stop working on a real device (even though it compiles and runs in their simulator) due to a carrier limitation, device limitation, or user configuration choice.

Testing is such a huge cost center for mobile smartphone development, since simulators and API docs are marginally useful. They do not give you any idea what really happens to software running on a real device, on a real network. The experience of working on diverse hardware, software, and carriers all over the world, are critical in ensuring the success of your mobile project. If your mobile app works perfectly in the simulator, this means nothing at all, and you have just gotten started (not finished).

Mobile is a whole different ballgame full of hardware capability divergence, screen size & form factor divergence, carrier limitations, DPI independence issues, and it all gets increasingly more difficult when you get into cloud-connected multiplatform-mobile. We educate all our consulting clients on these topics when they get started, and the reaction is the same from most of them – one of disbelief. I have been in this space since 1997, which is way longer than just about anyone I have met. I have seen this space evolve, and it has come a long way, but it’s rules are different than those of web and desktop and server. And people who treat it the same always think smartphone mobile development is easy and inexpensive, and just like web development. These are typically the people who think that a mobile project will cost $5000 or less to implement!

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Why I’m qualified to write this white paper

I’ve got over 4 years experience implementing, supporting, and teaching Java based mobile, web, and desktop technologies. I specialize in Android, BlackBerry, and Google Web Toolkit (GWT) implementation and instruction. Here is a summary of my past experience:

  1. Implemented Java based mobile, web, and desktop applications, including Android, BlackBerry, and GWT apps. Some of these apps can be found here.
  2. Lead the ScreamingToaster Consulting practice: implemented consulting process document, generated new business, and managed day-to-day customer interactions for consulting projects. Assisted with the implementation of many projects.
  3. Designed user interfaces (UIs) and user experiences (UXes) for multi-platform cloud-connected mobile, web, and desktop applications. Designed all ScreamingToaster products, and all apps built for customers as part of the Consulting practice.
  4. Wrote whitepapers, articles, and blog posts for ScreamingToaster media sites developerlife.com and Drivelikeagirl.com. Created Izzy Tech Talk series of whitepapers on developerlife aimed at business leaders and tech savvy readers, and based on many years of experience as Platform Evangelist @ ScreamingToaster.

And my work isn’t confined to the office, coding away at my desk. I presented at the 2009 BlackBerry Developer Conference, where we were finalists.



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