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Tuesday, March 18, 2008

How the iPhone SDK is reshaping mobile application development

Develop, Test, Distribute image from Apple Web site, small version

Eugene Signorini, Andrew Jaquith, and I wrote a Yankee Group Decision Note analyzing the Apple iPhone Software Development Kit (SDK) announcement last week; clients will probably see it in our published research sometime next week. But despite that note being more than 2,000 words, I'm still finding new insights from other writers on the topic. Today's harvest includes some commentary from Michael Mace, who declares that Apple gets it right. Michael's been on my mobile Web Sites interview list because he's an authority on many aspects of the mobile market and business strategy, and I think his comments on the intersection of mobile apps and the iPhone are particularly interesting:

I think it's likely that web apps will eventually displace most native mobile apps, because the addressable market will be so much larger. But eventually can take a long time, and if anyone can buck the trend it'll be Apple. They have created by far the best overall proposition for mobile developers on any platform in the US or Europe, and I hope they'll do very well for a long time.

Apple is challenging the rest of the mobile industry to compete on its terms. It will be very interesting to see how the other mobile vendors react, Nokia and Microsoft in particular. Nokia seems to be focused on a strategic positioning activity around seeing who can collect the most runtimes, while Apple is solving real developer and user problems. It's a striking contrast.

The second article I found rather interesting today is one by Daniel Eran Dilger, who talks about how Apple's developer signing certificates work. He does a comparison of Apple's software developer program against those of RIM, Nokia, and Qualcomm BREW and concludes that Apple developers are getting a particularly sweet distribution deal:

That leaves Apple’s program the cheapest and the simplest secure mobile software platform. There is currently no expensive, compulsory testing program, no significant upfront investment in digital certificates, and the certificates work outside of a Windows PC. Outside of certificates, Apple also offers a number of other things that are unique among mobile platforms that have mandatory code signing programs.

The first is its iTunes App Store system for distributing third party applications. Once you’ve paid the $99 fee, you can sign and upload apps into iTunes just as labels upload their music into iTunes. Apple takes a 30% cut, which pundits again tried to dramatically gasp at, apparently unaware that most mobile software stores take as much or more while offering developers a lot less.

Take Danger, which offers an app store most similar to the system Apple outlined. It takes a 50% cut. Microsoft recommends Windows Mobile developers list with Handango, which also offers Palm, Symbian, and BlackBerry software. It takes a 40% cut from small developers (and plans to raise things to 50% this month) but doesn’t present any direct purchase or directory across Windows Mobile, Palm, BlackBerry, or Symbian phones. Larger developers are supposed to pay Handango 60 to 70% of their software revenues!

Nokia’s Software Market/Content Discoverer and Motricity’s both take a 40% revenue cut, with some transactions giving the developer only 50% and/or charging them an additional 5% fee for ‘non-real time fulfillment.’ Nokia pays developers quarterly, rather than every month as Apple outlined.

This is not to say everyone is a fan of the iPhone SDK; in fact, some developers downright hate it. But what it says, though, is that Apple's SDK is rewriting a lot of the conventional wisdom about how software developers will create and distribute mobile applications. And combined with the increasing importance of mobile Web sites, about which I'll be publishing a report in the coming weeks, that means that businesses will have more choices in how they make their employees more productive Anywhere.

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