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Developer Platform Decisions

Contents: Report Introduction Browsers HTML5 Native Apps Platform Choice The Wrap

Lastly, we asked respondents about what sorts of factors -both strategic and technical-they considered important in determining which platforms they targetted. From a strategic perspective we asked

When choosing a platform to develop for (e.g, Android) how important are the following factors?

feature not important important very important
platform capabilities 5.74% 19.82% 60.36%
number of potential users of your app 6.45% 10.97% 68.55%
ease of development 6.05% 21.37% 58.55%
assistance in marketing your app 34.12% 28.23% 23.40%
worldwide reach of marketplace 22.33% 23.47% 40.02%

Developers are less concerned about marketing assistance, and more about the platform’s capabilities, and its market share. Currently, a number of platform owners are expending considerable effort to win developers over to their platforms on the basis of the sort of assistance they can give those developers marketing their apps. That effort might be better placed at least in part in making life easier for developers, though documentation, and tools, than co-marketing efforts.

From a technical perspective, we asked which platform features developers consider important.

Which of the following, in your opinion, are the 5 key features web apps need to compete with native apps on devices?

Answer Count Percentage
Audio Player control 186 13.62%  
Camera Image Capture 434 31.77%  
Support for sending SMS, MMS, emails within an app 349 25.55%  
Read write access to Address Book/Contacts 275 20.13%  
Geolocation 647 47.36%  
Accelerometer 266 19.47%  
Device Interaction (beep, vibrate etc) 406 29.72%  
Video Player Control 196 14.35%  
Camera Video Capture 208 15.23%  
Device Orientation (i.e. Compass) 277 20.28%  
Read/Write access to system calendars and tasks 374 27.38%  
Read/Write access to device file system 414 30.31%  
Device status (battery, signal, screen, other parameters on the device) 152 11.13%  
Native control look and feel 680 49.78%  
Ability to launch other apps (e.g media player) from the app 398 29.14%  

Interestingly, no factor, not even support for native look and feel tops 50%, while of the most desired features, a number are currently widely supported on mobile platforms (geo location, file access, accelerometer), while others are part of the W3C’s Device API standard, currently under development.

So, by and large, the pieces developers most want from web technologies are already available on most mobile platforms, either directly in the browser, or via PhoneGap, Appcelerator, or a similar technology.

Native versus web technologies for app development

Yet controversy reigns around the question of native versus HTML5 based apps. Is this just a storm in a teacup? Or do developers have genuine concerns about the viability of web technologies for developing applications. In our final questions, we asked developers what they felt the strengths and weaknesses of each approach – native and web technologies were. Rather than enumerate a list of answers, we simply asked developers to tell us in their own words.

The strengths of native development, or the reasons cited for developing using native technologies included

  • ability to access app stores
  • client/decision maker expectations (“because our CEO has an iPad”)
  • performance or responsiveness to user input
  • access to device APIs
  • needs to be usable offline
  • platform limitations (e.g. Windows Phone 6)
  • desire to create a native user experience

The sort of limitations of native technologies respondents typically cited included

  • learning curve of development environments, and languages
  • lack of cross platform deployment, need to develop multiple versions
  • long development time
  • challenges in getting upgrades into app stores, and getting users to upgrade
  • App store restrictions

Most of these can be addressed via the use of a technology like PhoneGap, or Appcelerator, and a number even directly in the browser. The particular challenges that remain are native look and feel (though many “native” apps emulate these, or use non standard look and feel), and performance, certainly in more demanding circumstances.

The particular strengths of web technologies developers cited included

  • ease of cross platform development (though some concerns were raised about the reality of this)
  • ease of development generally
  • ease of application maintenance
  • instant upgrades
  • Not constrained by App Store policies

while not surprisingly the drawbacks were largely the obverse of the strengths of native apps, including

  • challenges creating native user experience
  • lower performance
  • lack of device API access

At least among these developers, there appears to be considerable consensus about the strengths and weakness of each approach to developing for platforms like iOS. It’s clear too that at least some respondents were comparing pure web apps with native apps, as a number of the concerns which respondents raised about using web technologies to develop native apps, for example access to device APIs, and app stores can be eliminated by using approaches such as PhoneGap.

What’s left are two underlying concerns, which are expressed commonly in online discussions about the contrasts between web technologies and native technologies.

First, that web technologies have lower performance than native approaches like Objective-C. And secondly, that using native technologies gives rise to better, more native user experiences than using web technologies, even with frameworks like SenchaTouch.

Overall though, it’s clear that, again among this cohort of developers, there’s considerable interest in developing native app using web technologies. We’ve also seen that a sizeable percentage of the respondents are considering developing native apps in the coming year, and it’s a fair guess that a significant percentage of these, perhaps even a significant majority will use web technologies, coupled with a solution like Appcelerator, or PhoneGap.

Finally, we’ll wrap up this mobile focused state of web development report with some general thoughts.

Contents: Report Introduction Browsers HTML5 Native Apps Platform Choice The Wrap

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