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Yahoo Pulls the Plug on Mobile Development for Platforms Other Than iPhone

Posted on: May 19th, 2009 by Craig Rairdin 13 Comments

Laridian VIP Ed Hansberry posts the following on InformationWeek.com: Too Many Mobile OS’s Limiting Development For Companies.

Ed writes, “…there are a bewildering number of platforms and variations within the platforms to develop for. Enterprises will take the easy way out and just stick to one platform and a precious few models. Software developers that are selling their apps will have to have enough penetration for each platform to make development worthwhile. Each platform requires its own development team or at least a dedicated development process that takes time away from other supported platforms…. While phone carriers may support six or more mobile platforms, I am not sure the software industry will.”

We’ve been talking about this problem for some time:

Ed makes a good observation: There are at least six major mobile platforms. What if there were six desktop platforms? The software industry would be a significantly different place as companies tried to solve the huge problem of cross-platform development, multiple-platform development, and having enough market on any one platform to justify the incremental cost of maintaining or entering the market on that platform.

One thing you can say about Windows: By dominating the market Microsoft makes it easy for developers on desktop platforms. You can focus your development on one operating system. If you make it there you can consider Mac if you have enough users to justify the expense. Once you’ve covered Windows you have 80%-90% of the market. Whether you go for the 10%-15% represented by the Mac OS is a big decision, but at least it’s the only decision you’ll have to make.

For those of us writing software for mobile platforms there’s not only the issue of supporting a large number of platforms, but there’s the fact that the relative mix of market share on these platforms changes over time. Palm OS used to be our largest platform. Today the Palm OS is dead. Palm and Windows Mobile used to dominate the market; today iPhone and Windows Mobile hold the dominant share of customers. Deciding how we allocate development time and money is an ongoing process that changes a couple times every year.

Meanwhile Apple doesn’t make it easy to develop for the iPhone. I am having a major problem with getting the XCode programming tools to talk to my new 3G iPhone. The information at the Apple developer site is insufficient, and the developer forums they provide have numerous questions identical to mine that have gone unanswered for months. When you call “developer support” at Apple you get a guy in Great Britain who admits he has absolutely no idea how to solve the problem because he’s not a programmer and knows nothing about programming. He points me to the documentation, which is what I’ve been following to get me into the predicament I’m in.

It’s actually encouraging to see a major company like Yahoo make the decision to abandon all other platforms but the iPhone. (Actually, they’re supporting other platforms through customizations to their Web-based products.) It makes it easier for us to consider similar options.

13 Responses

  1. ARJWright says:

    As a developer, I could see this being both good and bad. But those are the kinds of decisions that need to be made these days as mobile platforms grow and evolve into larger audiences and wider usage patterns.

    Makes me wonder to some extent though, would WRT be a better option since its (a) web and (b) almost readily cross-platform.

    Thanks for the thinking material.

  2. Josh S says:

    I’m optimistic that there will be a cross-platform solution in the not-to-distant future. It makes sense to have competition in the hardware platform and still have an open standard way to deliver applications.
    Since iPhone, Android, Symbian, and Palm’s new Pre all have the WebKit application framework, I’d put my money on that. I can already do Gmail offline with my iPhone this way, and I’m sure there’s a lot more to come.
    There will certainly be limitations though, and it probably still doesn’t make it as easy on the developers as having a single hardware platform. Those days are over though, and they’re never coming back.

  3. Matt says:

    You can’t call Apple Developer Technical Support on the phone and talk to an engineer. You need to send email to dts@apple.com. They will contact you back with help. They might even call you.

  4. ARJ: WRT = yet another platform.

    Josh: General purpose cross-platform development tool = yet another platform. Plus I’ve watched these for 25 years now and they always give you the least common denominator experience.

    Matt: You’d think so, but none of my emails to dts have ever been answered, by email or otherwise. On the other hand, Microsoft developer support takes my calls, emails me right away, acknowledges bugs in the OS, and even writes code for me. There are non-trivial pieces of PocketBible for Windows Mobile that were written for us by a Microsoft developer support engineer to circumvent OS problems. And when they’re all done, I get an email from the tech support supervisor to verify they handled my problem effectively.

  5. Kevin Purcell says:

    Say it aint’s so! The most troubling thing to come from the Laridian blog in a long time was this little nugget.

    “It’s actually encouraging to see a major company like Yahoo make the decision to abandon all other platforms but the iPhone. (Actually, they’re supporting other platforms through customizations to their Web-based products.) It makes it easier for us to consider similar options.”

    My hope and prayer is that this is not a harbinger of what is to come…

    The last sentence of your comment above is hopefully more a clue about the company’s future. Then again, I haven’t seen the iPod Bible program yet. I may change my tune.

  6. Nathan Youngman says:

    @Josh I’d say you have the right idea. There is already an app called PhoneGap that is attempting to do just that. Writing local web apps with JavaScript and the usual web stuff, with additional APIs for access to the low level hardware. For some applications, I think this idea could work very well, though can’t say I’ve delved into it myself.

  7. Ed Hansberry says:

    The cross-platform never works. Look at Java. It is feature deficient compared to the platform it runs on and it has its own UI within the Java sandbox, ignoring whatever the native platform has. It is slow and sluggish.

    Any cross-platform solution would have simliar issues. You are running basically a platform in a virtual machine.

    Even if you have a development language that was common, it would require huge runtimes on each device and you still haven’t overcome the UI issues. if someone could come up with a cross-platform development language that would run fast, not consume massive amounts of RAM and storage space and use and take advantage of the devices UI, that someone would be one of the richest developers in the world.

  8. Brett Quam says:

    I think Palm is taking a step in the right direction, but they are going to have to throw a lot of system APIs to make JavaScript work for their native applications. That just means that while your JavaScript may stay the same, all of your API calls would change from platform to platform. There is a book being written on hybrid development on the iPhone using JavaScript, XHTML, and CSS that is similar to what PhoneGap offers, but you would still have quite a bit of time converting the features from one API to the other. And even then, I would bet that there are things you will be able to do through these APIs that you will not in another.

    Also, keep in mind that Apple has been denying a ton of PhoneGap app submissions over the last few weeks because PhoneGap made the mistake of calling itself an “API” and non-Apple APIs are not allowed to play in Apple’s sandbox.

    I think webOS and the Pre are a step in the right direction, but we really won’t know until a lot of developers start working with the SDK.

  9. Dan Buhler says:

    So I guess we won’t be seeing an Android version anytime soon? :)

    I completely understand and appreciate your letting us know.

  10. Dan,

    There’s a constant stream of new devices. We’re always evaluating what we should be working on. We’re not saying that we will or won’t ever have a client for any particular platform. We’re saying that seeing the big guys make hard choices is encouraging to us because it says that not everyone thinks it’s vital to be on every platform. Since we don’t have the resources of Yahoo or Google, it’s even more important for us to be able to be smart about where we spend our time. For example, we’ve never had a Nokia/Symbian client and we license a BlackBerry client rather than develop our own.

    If Android turns into the next iPhone, then we’ll be looking at it more favorably. For now it’s not obvious that it’s going to be that big. This article just tells us that it’s OK to be selective.

  11. Ed Hansberry says:

    Even AT&T wants fewer platforms to deal with. http://d7.allthingsd.com/20090527/randall-stephenson/

    “Walt: Are all these new operating systems arriving at market problematic for AT&T? The iPhone, Palm’s (PALM) WebOS, Android? Would it be easier if there were fewer platforms? Stephenson: Do I want to see fewer platforms? Yes, it’s better for my business.”

    There needs to be consolidation.

  12. Tim Graham says:

    Platform multiplicity is an issue. And IPhone is a dominant platform. I’d also encourage you to consider Android. The platform is growing and multiple carriers will support before end of year.

  13. Thad Dz says:

    Since I’m stuck with Verizon, my new mobile will almost surely be Android-based. It will be a shame if there’s no Laridian bible available, but I’d have to go with Android anyway because of the business productivity apps that I use 95% of the time.

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