Mobile interoperability to remain pipe dream

Phone makers are not likely to give developers ability to port apps to competing platforms, as ability to offer exclusive apps remains differentiating factor.
Written by Victoria Ho, Contributor

Mobile platform interoperability will likely remain a pipe dream for developers, although market share remains the main factor in choosing which platform to develop for, say industry commentators.

Speaking to ZDNet Asia in an interview, Boudewijn Pesch, president of the Mobile Alliance said interoperability, allowing developers the ability to easily port mobile applications to different platforms, is "probably not going to happen very soon".

It is not in the interests of mobile OS makers to allow developers to write apps and easily deploy them on different platforms, because being able to offer exclusive apps is an important way for them to differentiate, explained Pesch.

Furthermore, the myriad new platforms jostling for market dominance now, will leave developers with little choice other than to "find ways around the issue", he said.

But Android developer,Chua Zi Yong, said interoperability is not as great a concern to developers.

Larger software houses prioritize existing market share of a platform, in deciding which one to develop for, because they have to justify their investment, said Chua in a phone interview.

Companies are waiting for Android to grow its user base, which is expected to grow as manufacturers make more handsets with the OS, he said.

According to an Ovum report released earlier this month, the Symbian OS is expected to maintain its market leadership into 2014, although Android shipments are set to reach 72 million units by that time and overtake Windows Mobile handsets.

The issue of interoperability is not a great barrier to these large developers, because companies have the resources to create separate versions of their apps for different platforms. "If they don't have their app on a platform, someone else will," Chua added.

It is the smaller companies and independent developers who do not have the luxury of creating for multiple platforms, and will have to "choose strategically", as a result. These parties tend to choose the platforms with the large addressable market as well, he said.

Device-agnostic mobile platforms from the likes of Yahoo and Sun have touted the ability to "write once, run anywhere", in order to attract developers, although with limited success--the different varieties of Java needed for different phones, for example, have thwarted Java's ability to deliver on that slogan.

A tool called Appcelerator, touts its ability to allow developers to create apps within its environment and run them natively on both the iPhone and Android.

On how much a phone maker opens up its device to developers, Chua said how "exposed the APIs are, is not really an issue".

"Most apps don't require access to all the phone's inner functions," he said.

Rather, openness is another reason Chua chose Android as his preferred platform. Comparing the development process for the iPhone OS and Android, Chua said Google's open source license is attractive to developers because it provides assurance against licensing issues. "Developers don't want to find that after developing an app, they can't release it.

"For companies, this is a problem because they'd have invested in [development]. For individual developers, there is emotional [strain]," said Chua.

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