App Development

How Every App Developer Helps Defend Android And iOS Against A Smartphone Revolution

In yesterday’s interview with The Wall Street Journal, Huawei’s consumer business group Richard Yu was asked about their choice of operating systems for smartphones. Specifically why go with Android and remain beholden to Google’s, rather than alternatives? Because Huawei has lost money in the last two years manufacturing Windows Phone handsets (“it has been difficult to persuade consumers to buy a Windows phone. It wasn’t profitable for us”) and while some mobile networks have asked for a Tizen phone, Huawei ”feel Tizen has no chance to be successful. Even for Windows Phone it’s difficult to be successful.”

The key quote from Yu, and the key quote that defines the smartphone market for the next year or two, is this:

We have no plans to build our own OS. It’s easy to design a new OS, but the problem is building the ecosystem around it.

Windows Phone is a competent mobile operating system. Technically it does everything you need a smartphone to do. It has a certain way of handling UI issues, and the first-party applications cover the majority of functions that a user would need. While we’re still waiting to see Tizen handsets available to consumers, there are other alternative mobile operating systems which are all competent and up to the basic task of being a smartphone.

I’ve looked at quite a few of these platforms here on Forbes, including BlackBerry’s BB10, Mozilla’s Firefox OS, and Jolla’s Sailfish OS. All of them perform well, they do the job, and they all have the ability to load and run third-party software if you want to expand the functionality of the handset.

From the social groups in Primary Schools, Elementary Classes, and beyond, a phone’s worth is defined not by the smartness of the operating system, but by the platform and the applications it offers.

Any new OS launching in the current climate has to address the app question to have even a chance at minor recognition on the high street. Currently the larger developer communities only work with iOS and Android. Bringing any notable volume of them over to a new platform is a Herculean task.

There will always be people who are looking for something a little bit different, but consider this. If the might of Microsoft could not attract passionate developers to the Windows Phone platform in any great numbers, then what hope do smaller manufacturers have to build up any momentum of applications?

This is why many of the ‘new’ mobile operating systems are subservient to the elephant in the room of Android. It’s why BlackBerry pushed the Android compatibility of BB10; it’s why Tizen pushes the Android Compatibility Layer in its software stack; it’s why Jolla has continued with efforts to support Android apps running on top of Sailfish OS and have them feel like a native app as much as possible.

When you look at the continued success of Android and iOS, the army of developers provides many wins for the platforms. They publish the apps that make the handsets more attractive. They provide services that lock customers in. And by the sheer volume of developers, and a natural resistance to switching development platforms, the two leading mobile operating systems have created a moat around one of their most valuable resources to stop other platforms building any significant mainstream momentum

It is not about being the ‘best’ mobile operating system, the fastest, or having the most handsets on the latest version. It is about the happily conscripted developers that will  hold the line for each platform against any new entrant into the market. Google and Apple have built twin rings of digital steel around their platforms in the mobile space, and there is no way for the opposition to out-flank the incumbents.

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