Developers: the best smart phone platform is?

I was talking with Loic Le Meur, CEO and founder of Seesmic, the other night and he was saying that he’s running his business by looking at the numbers, not listening to the hype. He told me that the iPhone isn’t the only platform out there, although he admitted that it gets 95% of the hype (er, discussion in community) because nearly every influencer has an iPhone and knows that it’s the best one out there. Even the hot new “Droid” phone doesn’t quite measure up in reviews.

He says that he’s forcing himself to use a Blackberry, for instance, even though he likes the iPhone better, because the numbers are telling him that Blackberry is a very important platform to develop for. He’s a businessman and he isn’t in business just for love.

The other night I met Tim Westergren, founder of Pandora. He gave me some off-the-top-of-his-head numbers that I’m trying to verify, but they give you some sense of where he’s seeing his business come from.

Pandora is an awesome case study, because many of my favorite VIPs have Pandora on their phone — it’s an awesome app. It’s on iPhone’s top downloaded list (near the top). It also is one of the few popular apps that’s available on almost every platform.

How popular is it? Well, he says it’s getting downloaded:

20,000 times a day on iPhone.
16-17,000 times a day on Blackberry.
8,000 times a day on Android.

He says on Windows Mobile and other phones it’s getting downloaded far less often than that. Westergren told me if he were starting development today he’d build for the above three platforms and is seeing more growth in Android than the others, so he’d bias to iPhone and Android, if he had to make a choice of only two platforms to develop on. This is also what I’m hearing from many other developers.

How about you?

By the way, I’ve started a Twitter list of iPhone app developers and companies. I don’t yet have one for Android or Blackberry, which I should do soon based on these numbers (unlike Loic I do it for love, not for money), but according to Listorious there are plenty of lists of all mobile phone platform developers and companies starting up.

Published by

Robert Scoble

As Startup Liaison for Rackspace, the Open Cloud Computing Company, Scoble travels the world looking for what's happening on the bleeding edge of technology for Rackspace's startup program. He's interviewed thousands of executives and technology innovators and reports what he learns in books ("The Age of Context," a book coauthored with Forbes author Shel Israel, has been released at http://amzn.to/AgeOfContext ), YouTube, and many social media sites where he's followed by millions of people. Best place to watch me is on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/RobertScoble

Comments

  1. well i was thinking of the iPhone hype and was considering writing a post about it, it is just the design that made it popular features what can be and what can't came only after that, first apple created or it got created by means of shear design and then people starting working making apps and everything you see online comes with a iPhone compatible site etc, why Nokia couldn't get that maybe because they had too many models and yeah Symbian is also great platform i think instead of blackberry one should get a E71 or E63, or maybe N800, simple, sleek design and accelerometer were the prime features that made iPhone big

  2. At some point, when 3G/4G coverage is sufficiently widespread and a big enough percentage of the mobile web browsers support HTML5 and very fast Javascript, we should see more web-hosted applications aimed at the mobile space. No apps needed.

  3. DGentry: opera is working on its browser for phones OperaMini and i like it, it is the shortest browser and its Basic version is only 57kb and built very well, the new beta 5 is even better. Opera has been working on it for like ages and i would say the operamini is very fast and well i love it over desktop browsers leave aside js and flash everything else works great, they run all the requests through their servers

  4. I believe the SkyFire browser for WinMobile and Symbian also works that way, pre-digesting web pages on beefy servers in a datacenter somewhere.

    To really dispense with installed applications, Javascript is key. Whether the browser technology is Opera Mini or Webkit, the Javascript support and performance has to be good.

  5. i guess the question should be: which smart phone has the best platform for a specific type of usage. Because for productivity and business i think Blackberry is and will remain a winner. For entertainment and fun iPhone also. Android could be kind of hybrid.

    But to date by far iPhone remains the best for developers because they are the only one that provide a seamless billing system with a painless way to suck in revenues for developers. Blackberry has one advantage: they can price apps higher for the same usage (easy to compare). But the billing is more painful.

  6. yeah more like Google adsense (another thing that i was thinking of while travelling today), site owner don't have to go through talks with advertisers

  7. I'd suspect that Android is doing even better than RIM in streaming/downloading of video based on its capabilities and the YouTube factor. In addition to looking at download numbers and especially the rate of change of those download numbers it is important for developers to factor in the opportunities to re-purpose their investments. It is obvious to me that Android will be injected into televisions, cars, home/office appliances, and new types of embedded devices that don't exist today. I also would not be surprised if we see the reincarnation of the Java Applet as an Android plug-in for the Chrome browser/OS. Can Apple or RIM compete against a free and open platform that is supported by so many verticals? I don't think so.

    1. “Can Apple or RIM compete against a free and open platform that is supported by so many verticals? I don’t think so.”

      You mean like how Open Source is in all settop boxes, mail servers, appliances etc., so Microsoft and Apple can’t compete against all those verticals?

      I’m so tired of the “Open beats Closed, Every time” mantra. Let me guess, 2010, Year of the Linux Desktop, right?

  8. Scoble, for once, tell us something we DON'T know. The fact that iPhone comes first as a proving ground for application's success, which then is translated to Android with successful scheme and the same old (maybe spiffed up) art and UI assets, is clear to developers. In fact, App Store with its cuttroat competition is allowing developers who aim iPhone first to weed out their app's potential audience and then translate to Android only if they see their app actually seeing interest among users.

    But Scoble, c'mon open your eyes for another app reality – tons of ideas and features are not possible on the iPhone but ONLY on Android. Uberpowerful keyboard managers that integrate custom layouts and OCR, copy/paste with cloud sync and multi-item clipboards, Locale event automation that integrates AI into your phone's activities, Contact lists that redefine social networking, Dialers with predictive search and automated service auto-calling, powerful camera apps that integrate real-time HDR into your photos and apps that immediately capture every new video or image done by any app and upload them to your desired social networks.

    Scoble, when you claimed there were 85,000 reasons to stay entrenched in your iPhone fantasy land, you missed to mentioned the hundreds of apps that are impossible for iPhone (except jailbroken and heavily pumped with Cydia goodness) and you're totally missing out. As anyone who has delegated half of his manual activity with their smartphone to something like Locale, who share media real-time with PicPush, etc. I have discovered the true strength of Android and I think that investing in it even now when it is still young is a wise choice.

    1. “hundreds of apps that are impossible for iPhone (except jailbroken and heavily pumped with Cydia goodness) and you’re totally missing out.”

      Why? I don’t see much that iPhone or Android are impossible to do. It’s only a matter of if those companies want to do it. Its like every few years people have to gather into cults, shout at each other “My dad is better than your”. Certainly “best” means different things to different developers.

  9. If I was building a mobile app and had to prioritize my resources, I would go iphone -> palm pre -> android -> blackberry. f( how future proof the technology is x size of the existing user base)

  10. If I was building a mobile app and had to prioritize my resources, I would go iphone -> palm pre -> android -> blackberry. f( how future proof the technology is x size of the existing user base)

  11. > 20,000 times a day on iPhone.
    > 16-17,000 times a day on Blackberry.
    > 8,000 times a day on Android.

    Any dev who, upon seeing those data, doesn’t immediately think, ‘Holy crap – look at that _huge_ Android number, relative to the installed base!’ should have his head examined.

  12. Scoble does it b/c he wants to polarize and have dumb ppl like us to either tag it, digg it and/or comment and thereby create $$$/followers for him.

  13. It sounds great to all lazy developers, but the reality is that the mobile devices are quite different – performance, energy efficiency, and other things start to play a major role. At the end, the HTML/CSS ideas are part of the Android platform as well, but to build a lightweight apps or services, you don't need a browser. Also, Android comes with an NDK now, which allows you to develop native services, when performance, hardware drivers, and other things become critical, and I'm not sure if webOS has something similar.

  14. Hi Nikolay, you sound a lot like the people who where say in the early days of Java/Application servers that Java was a nice little toy for building applets but for building real server side logic, you need C++. Let's meet in 5 years and see if devices will be programmed using Open Web or some type of obscure third-party proprietary framework.

  15. Of course there are less downloads on Windows Mobile; only device that Pandora works on where there is no free option. Why would I pay for it if iPhones get it free? How does that even remotely make sense to do? I am not going to subsidize iPhones taking all the bandwidth, sorry.

  16. Of course there are less downloads on Windows Mobile; only device that Pandora works on where there is no free option. Why would I pay for it if iPhones get it free? How does that even remotely make sense to do? I am not going to subsidize iPhones taking all the bandwidth, sorry.

  17. @Scobleizer Very interesting as to the # of downloads. Those are nominal numbers. Would be interesting to know what the market share of Blackberry vs. iPhone. Despite Droid not being the iPhone-killer, it is a great next step and give Verizon's better coverage than AT&T across much of the US, that sacrifice may well be worth it for me. #mobile

  18. I wonder how many of Tim's download numbers are from repeat customers who are forced to carry a second mobile phone because iPhones aren't reliable as phones (I know, blame ATT.)

    I was thinking of writing an app for iPhone to enable customers to make and receive phone calls….what do you think? Could be huge, right?

  19. I'd like to see these sorts of stats on a more global application. Pandora is limited to the US so it's obvious that the stats will be skewed towards US centric phones.

    If you could pry the numbers from Nimbuzz or Fring that would be way more telling. Although I suspect Apple will still come out on top. Not necessarily because more people will use your app but iphone users have become used to “snacking” on apps. That is downloading them, trying them and discarding or not using them. Users of other phones tend to be more careful about their decisions especially if they have to pay.

  20. I'd like to see these sorts of stats on a more global application. Pandora is limited to the US so it's obvious that the stats will be skewed towards US centric phones.

    If you could pry the numbers from Nimbuzz or Fring that would be way more telling. Although I suspect Apple will still come out on top. Not necessarily because more people will use your app but iphone users have become used to “snacking” on apps. That is downloading them, trying them and discarding or not using them. Users of other phones tend to be more careful about their decisions especially if they have to pay.

  21. Nickolay, the difference in using HTML/JS to develop on WebOS and Android is that on WebOS the browser is the operating system and it is always on and available; on Android your app would have to load the browser to utilize it which would be counterproductive considering Java and native C/C++ programming will be always faster. So work done on WebOS will not produce similar performance results in other operating systems.

  22. Not necessarily. This all comes down the app economy, not platform culture. If Android apps are to make money from less sales they would require higher prices, therefore people would stay away from “snacking” apps. In a year, when the market is flooded with 20+m Android phones, Android apps would find themselves in the same price ranges of iPhone apps, racing for the bottom, and people would get back to snacking apps again.

  23. I will just name couple things my iPod Touch can do only with jailbreaking and Cydia apps. On Android similar apps require no modification of the OS.

    * My iPod has a dynamic lockscreen (app is LockInfo) showing the weather, RSS, calendar items and latest mail. Android has it and its called FlyScreen, too.
    * My iPod has a Growl-like notification engine that shows latest email, calendar and alarm events etc. in any application. It's called GRiP.
    * My iPod has a QTweeter app which opens from anywhere (home or application) and allows me to send a status to both Twitter and Facebook.
    * My iPod has backgrounding through Backgrounder, and has easy to use task manager for switching between apps called Kurakae.
    * My iPod has folders for apps. Android has 3rd party Launchers that add categories, folders, tagging and dynamic folders (smart folders based on tags) for apps.
    * My iPod has SBSettings for changing device settings from within any app.
    * My iPod changes its settings depending on the WiFi network it is connected. Android has Locale, a super-powerful automation app that can do anything depending on time, location and more.

    Okay, BF, its your turn to prove to me that it's just up to developers to come up with these apps on iPhone. You cannot. It's not up to iPhone developers. It's up to Apple to release their iron grip on the device which they won't. Android simply allows creation of thremendous amount of apps and services that are not constrained by the narrow thinking enforced by Cupertino. You and everyone else who thinks iPhone is the Jesus phone simply are entrenched in narrow-minded thinking when it comes to applications – you just envision simple, one-app-at-a-time, no-inter-app-interoperability, no-backgrounding, no-anything-innovative sort of apps.

  24. I mean that Apple and RIM do not have the resources to compete against the manufacturers of televisions, cars, cameras, home/office appliances, and new types of embedded devices on their turf when the manufacturers can simply adopt Android with no investment in recreating a system like Android which has a developer ecosystem already in place. These verticals are not in the OS business. However, Android is very easy to adapt to their devices with relatively very little cost to them considering their other options. Why would these companies hand over a significant portion of their profits to Apple or RIM if they did not have to? Microsoft is losing a ton of money on the XBox. Apple is failing with their AppleTV product. I doubt they will be entering into the automobile business anytime soon. I'm betting on Android as a commodity and that open with the backing of industry will beat closed for embedded operating systems. The evidence is substantial. The industry leader, Symbian, has even realized this. IMO Linux has been held back by the GPL license which is not business-friendly. Android is licensed under Apache 2.0 which is similar to the BSD license. BTW, Apple's OS is built on top of BSD Unix.

  25. That's a fair assumption judging that you are taking into account the US market only.
    There is, however a fairly big piece of the pie in Europe, where stats can be slightly different.

    Thanks for the case study though. Wonder if US people really use RIM devices for business rather then vanity as they tend to do here.