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Are there too many mobile platforms?

With the success of Apple’s iPhone, many other players have entered the app store business. But with so many platforms, application developers are forced to make a tough choice between choosing to concentrate on one platform, or going through the cumber

Over the last two to three years, there has been a spurt in mobile stores. Especially after the grand success of the iPhone, applications are the new gold mine.
To tap this gold rush, many biggies in the telecom space are launching their own application markets and mobile platforms.
The examples include Apple iOS, Android, Sybian, Blackberry, Palm and bada. Although many of these OSs existed before iOS came into being, applications as a separate area of focus didn’t exist.
These were mostly proprietary OSs, mainly created to become unique selling propositions of the devices they worked on. But with the emergence of applications as a source of additional revenue, these platforms are opening up to the developer community.
Even telecom operators such as Airtel and Vodafone do not want to be left behind and have joined the bandwagon with their own app stores.
Opening up the OS has multiple benefits. The first one being revenue earned to distribute apps created by independent developers; and second, it also makes the OS more attractive for the buyer as he gets more options and flexibility.
For the developer community it means an easy market for their products, an opportunity which doesn’t require much investment. These platforms are creating new entrepreneurs every day, with an entire industry springing up. Some of these companies are four to five people teams which create applications and sell them across the world without the need for a huge marketing budget, or having to travel to the customer to sell.
However, as with anything else, the applications business has it own set of pit falls. And the biggest of them is that there are too many application platforms. Lokesh Gupta, chief executive officer, Spice Labs, says, “I agree that there are too many application platforms and this is not sustainable in the long run; there will be some short of consolidation. However, in the current context, it (numerous app platforms are) fuelling entrepreneurial skills and innovation, and will continue to do so in the near future.”
With so many platforms, it becomes very difficult to test and optimise applications for each and every device.
This problem gets accentuated when you have multiple form factors. “In iPhone kind of environment you have only slight variation between devices and thus it is easier to handle, but with or Symbian, you have multitude of devices with different screen size, and inputs. In such a situation you choose the best seller and create applications accordingly,” said Rohith Bhat, managing director and chief executive officer of Robosoft.
The problem grows further with operator run application stores, where there is no end to device variation.
As the industry moves forward, standardisation is the key and there are strong signs that the mobile industry is moving in that direction. Lokesh said, “We are already seeing signs of standardisation. For instance, we have capacitive technology as becoming the norm; same is true with the screen size, 240×320, 320X480, 640X200 etc becoming the most common screen sizes in up coming phones. Same is true for the processor.”
In the mobile processor space also, ARM and Qualcomm have a majority of the market share. If these are indications of the future, then surely we are moving in the direction of the PC industry in which we have reached a level where there are a couple of standards which are most popular.
As far as platforms are concerned, none of the existing platforms need to die, however some of the underlying features of the platform will get standardized, thereby enabling cross platform application development and reducing the testing and customisation time and in turn, reducing development time and complexity itself.
The other possibility is that only few will survive, the way it is in the PC industry where only three are big and Windows is the biggest with more than 90 per cent market share.

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