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Mobile platforms are quickly becoming the main battlefield in the war between large IT corporations – even the old-school industry leaders such as Microsoft are forced to seriously consider the marketing potentials of this fast-growing new field. Tablet computers and smartphone devices are currently eating away significant market share from traditional PC’s, creating additional demand for mobile app developers in the process. While the smartphones outsold tablets in 2012 with 900 million units shipped worldwide compared to 128 million, analysts expect that with a 50% growth rate year-over-year the tablets will soon outpace PC sales and it won’t be long before they become the preferred platform for internet browsing. All this is great news for mobile app developers who earn their livelihood on App Store or Google Play, but right now it isn’t entirely clear what the future will bring when it comes to the future of this blossoming software engineering field.
Key Decision For Developers
Developing apps is certainly not easy – it takes a lot of technical skill to create reliable and effective software for any platform, particularly so in the fast moving world of mobile technology. With all the challenges the developers already face, it is a legitimate question whether the diversification of form factors is helping their cause or not. While the fundamentals of the app development process are relatively independent from features of the target device, it is very clear that both tablets and smartphones require specific knowledge in order for the apps to work well. When you consider that Apple paid out around US $5 billion to its developers last year and Android chipped in another US $900 million, it becomes very clear that an answer to the smartphone/tablet dilemma has long-term financial ramifications. While specialization can make developer’s life much easier by reducing the number of variables to be taken into account, choosing the wrong side can effectively drain a lot of much-needed cash from his pockets. That’s why such a decision should only be made after careful deliberation and in-depth financial analyses, not impulsively or based on personal preferences.
Impact Of Size
While both categories of devices share many common traits (including basic architecture and the OS they can run), the most significant difference between them is obviously the screen size. This may not look like a big deal when you are just a casual user, but that’s just because each app is optimized to use the available space in the most effective way, and that is only possible when the developer knows what he is doing. Whenever a smartphone app needs to be released for tablets, its user interface needs to be completely reinvented in order to take advantage use of all that extra space. Conversely, smartphone app developers have to develop a sixth sense for minimization of key functions and learn how to place an emphasis solely on the most indispensable graphic elements. In effect, the developers have to hone their UI skills in accordance with their preferred medium if they want to become true wizards of their craft.
Avoiding Extra Competition
Of course, it would be foolish to forget about the level of competition when making such an important decision. The raw numbers suggest that both form factors are attracting a lot of attention, with around 84% of developers working on apps for smartphones as opposed to 81.34 supporting tablet development. As it turns out, the circumstances are quite different depending on the OS platform – while the numbers are within 2% for both iOS and Windows, Android developers are still focusing on smartphones to a much greater extent. This is a mild surprise considering that most tablet computers shipped worldwide are Android-based, which means there is a sizable gap between supply and demand that could represent an opportunity for up-and-coming providers. However, the market as a whole is quite balanced and the choice of the hardware platform is unlikely to make a huge difference on the bottom line, so this factor should be viewed as complementary.
Different Apps For Different Devices
Key question that needs to be asked before any mobile app is created is – who will be using the app and for which purpose. Although smartphones can successfully perform nearly all the functions that tablets are capable of, they are hardly ideal for serious business utilization simply due to smaller screen area to work with and difficulties with running complex interfaces featuring large number of active, clickable buttons. For example, tablets offer excellent gaming experience (as evidenced by the fact that 44% of available tablet apps are games), but other app categories such as education and e-commerce are doing well on this platform, too. Research also shows that people are using tablets for longer periods of time, so it totally makes sense that tablet apps are easier to monetize than smartphone apps. At the other hand, smartphones are much easier to carry around, making them perfect for apps people use on the move, such as multimedia or messaging.
Should You Do Both?
The solution many developers reach for is doing a little bit of both. While this strategy could demand some additional work to succeed, it awards them the opportunity to earn as much money as possible and to reduce the risks of future developments. Right now, each hardware platform has plenty of reasons for optimism, since the mobile industry is growing at truly astonishing pace – mobile search has expanded for 500% over the last two years, to quote just one quantitative indicator. It appears that mobile technologies are about to claim victory over the traditional computing devices and it would be shortsighted to abandon either tablets or smartphones at this stage. It certainly helps that development methodology and practice are quite similar in both cases if you disregard concerns about the display size, so the extra effort necessary for multi-platform versatility is not as daunting as it may seem at a first glance. This is especially true for experienced developers with advanced interface design skills who are able to master both form factors to perfection.
It should be noted that our industry is so dynamic that predicting future trends can be a dangerous task. However, mobile technologies have already made a lasting impact and it is extremely hard to imagine that either smartphones or tablets would disappear from the market any time soon. In practice, this implies that resourceful developers equipped with diverse skills who can create apps for both form factors stand the best chance to profit over the long term. The big unknown at this time is whether Android would prevail over iOS, but whichever OS becomes the global standard will certainly cover both tablets and smartphones – possibly even some other device types that we haven’t seen yet. Picking a single hardware platform could be a good idea for beginners, but those who want to make a strong imprint on the market should definitely learn how to adapt to each. The mobile era is just entering the mature phase and lofty earning potentials in smartphone and tablet app development are about to be realized – and as Darwin’s law implies, only the most adaptable will survive.