For much of the last few years the smartphone market has been a three-horse race with Apple, Google and BlackBerry battling for supremacy. Google’s Android has held the lead in recent times while BlackBerry’s market share has continued to dwindle. Figures published yesterday by IDC show that although BlackBerry is still in third place, its share of new devices sold is down to just 3.2% and it remains to be seen whether its new X10 and Q10 devices will do anything to reverse that slide.
With Microsoft (2.4%) so far failing to make a big impact with Windows Phone there are now only two big players in terms of mobile platforms: Android (70.1%) and iOS (21.0%). This is the continuation of a trend previously highlighted on this blog in the discussion of the pros and cons of HTML5 versus native apps.
There are two important caveats in this latest data. Firstly it should be noted that these figures are for sales of new devices. Actual smartphone ownership figures lag behind as devices purchased in the last couple of years remain in use. Secondly, these are worldwide figures and while they are broadly representative of trends across much of Europe and Asia, there are markets where the picture is markedly different. For example, while the same duopoly exists in the United States, the relative shares are very different with Apple’s iOS in pole position (51.2%) and Android in second (44.2%).
iOS 5.0 and Android 4.0 were unveiled a week apart in October 2011. 15 months later the Apple offering has achieved near universal uptake (over 96% according to some third-party figures) whereas the majority of users of Google’s OS are still waiting. Many will never receive an upgrade for their current devices.
With less than 40% of Android users running Ice Cream Sandwich (Android 4.0) or Jelly Bean (Android 4.1/4.2), app developers find themselves having to support outdated versions of the operating system in order to reach the widest audience of Android users. To be runnable by 90% or more of users, an Android app must run on Android 2.2 (Froyo), an OS that is four months short of its third birthday. iOS developers on the other hand need only support a 10-month-old version (iOS 5.1) in order to reach the same percentage of users.
This pattern seems set to continue (iOS 6 already has twice the penetration of Android 4.x despite being only four months old) and while it does Android developers will not be able to rely on recent OS features if they intend their app to be usable by the majority. In contrast, an iOS app developer can happily forget about the limitations of all but the last couple of versions of the platform, which leads to a much more straightforward development process with far fewer workarounds and compromises.
With many Android device manufacturers failing to provide updates for older phones, existing Android users are typically only getting the new OS when they upgrade to new hardware. At that pace it is likely to be mid 2014 before app developers can consider dumping Android 2.x completely.
Simplicent LLC has today released the first version of Learn Pro Blackjack, for iPhone and iPad. This blackjack training app, built for Simplicent by Rectangular Software, teaches users the fundamentals of Basic Strategy – the essential knowledge for maximising your chances of winning at the table.
With a typical house edge of around just 0.5%, blackjack is a far better proposition for the discerning player than other casino games such as roulette, but only if you make the right decisions in your play. Basic Strategy is a proven set of rules that determine what you should do in every possible situation to give yourself the best chance of winning.
Learn Pro Blackjack combines a set of training flashcards with a comprehensive strategy test consisting of 340 scenarios. The app supports both Las Vegas and Atlantic City rules and includes additional tips to help you get the most from your gaming experience.
If you want to learn blackjack strategy, the app is available now from the iTunes App Store.
At Rectangular Software we try to keep track of the state of the mobile market place so that we can better advise our clients on mobile app strategies. So we’re always on the look-out for the latest data. Things change so fast in this space that figures from 6 months ago can be hopelessly misleading.
I was interested therefore to see that Kantar Worldpanel today published its latest smartphone market share figures for eight key countries (Australia, Brazil, France, Germany, Great Britain, Italy, Spain and the United States). Based on device sales for the 12-week period ending on 5th August, the figures show that Android is the most popular platform in each of the countries, with over half of the market everywhere except Brazil and 61.2% overall (up from 52.2% this time last year).
Beyond the good news for Google the picture is more varied from country to country. Apple’s iOS is doing much better in the three anglophone countries than elsewhere. It has over 35% of the US market but less than 3% in Spain where Android has an almost total monopoly.
RIM’s market share for its BlackBerry devices has collapsed everywhere except France. In the important US market it has been all but wiped out. Overall RIM has been pushed into fourth place behind Microsoft, which is finally gaining some traction for its Windows Phone OS, albeit with a still modest 4.8% share.
The regional variation in the numbers underline the importance of understanding who your users are before deciding which platforms to focus your resources on.
|Operating System||GB||EU 5||Key 8|
|GB = Great Britain | EU 5 = GB + France, Germany, Italy, Spain | Key 8 = EU 5 + Australia, Brazil, USA|
The full figures can be downloaded here (PDF).
I was interested to read (via the Guardian) that Facebook has replaced its HTML5 mobile web app with a native app for the iPhone and iPad and is most likely preparing to introduce a native Android app too.
This is significant because there has been a growing trend for companies to favour mobile web apps over native apps (that is apps tailored specifically to one mobile platform, such as iOS, Android or BlackBerry, using tools and technologies that are incompatible with the other platforms). The obvious attraction of the web-based approach is that a single application will, in theory, work across all major smartphones and tablets, regardless of which operating system they run. Facebook’s move is an acknowledgement that while this is clearly a cost-effective way of reaching the widest user base, it does not offer the best possible user experience:
“So while utilizing web technology has allowed us to support more than 500 million people using Facebook on more than 7000 supported devices, we realized that when it comes to platforms like iOS, people expect a fast, reliable experience and our iOS app was falling short. Now that our mobile services had breadth, we wanted depth.”
That native apps offer the potential for the richest user experience is not controversial. Being tailored to a single platform, a native app can integrate seamlessly with the device and take advantage of the full range of hardware and operating system features in the most efficient way possible. In contrast, there will always be an element of lowest common denominator compromise in any cross-platform alternative.
The downside to native apps has been the cost of supporting multiple mobile platforms. Build an iOS app and you have an app that runs on iOS devices. You’ll have to build a separate app to reach Android users and then you still don’t have a solution for BlackBerries. So it’s unsurprising that as HTML5 becomes more mature, mobile devices become faster, and mobile network bandwidth increases, more companies are deciding that mobile web apps are good enough. They are happy to trade platform-specific fit and finish in favour of reduced development costs compared to developing several different native apps.
But before dismissing the idea of building separate native apps it’s worth considering how many platforms you would actually need to support. Over the last year the mobile ecosystem has become considerably less diverse, as these recent figures from Gartner show. Whereas in Q2 of 2011 there were four mobile platforms with a double-digit share of devices sold worldwide, in the same quarter this year Android accounts for almost two thirds (64.1%) and Apple’s iOS (18.8%) is the only other big player. Nokia has all but abandoned Symbian, BlackBerry maker RIM has shed more than half of its market share and, despite Microsoft and Nokia’s best efforts, Windows Phone (2.7%) is still languishing in 6th place behind even Samsung’s low-end Bada OS.
|Operating System||Market Share Q2 2012||Change from Q2 2011|
|Research In Motion||5.2%||-6.5%|
In light of these numbers, it appears that in many cases it may be sufficient to target just two platforms for your mobile app – at least initially. In that case the cost differences compared to developing a single HTML5 mobile web app might not be that significant. Cost is of course not the only consideration. Some apps have requirements that make them inherently more suited to one approach or the other. Here are some of the other factors that may influence your decision:
Pitch Invasion, the UK’s leading organiser of 5-a-side and 6-a-side football leagues, has today released an enhanced version of its free iPhone app for players in the 100+ Pitch Invasion football leagues across England.
This version of the app was built by Rectangular Software based on the foundations of an app that Pitch Invasion had previously commissioned that is currently being used by thousands of footballers across the country.
Taking the existing app as a starting point, and working closely with Pitch Invasion, Rectangular Software has made several refinements and additions to existing functionality.
Improvements in the updated app include a new location-aware league finder for finding your nearest league, a new streamlined native payment facility and the ability to make and view nominations for Player of the Week. This is in addition to other fixes and enhancements including support for the high resolution Retina displays found on the iPhone 4, iPhone 4S and iPod Touch (4th generation).
Some interesting figures were published by mobile app analytics firm Flurry recently. They show how Google Play (the new name for Android Market) is trailing a long way behind its major competitors in generating per-user revenue from smartphone apps (an app on the iTunes App Store earns over four times as much per user).
The that fact apps on the iTunes App Store generate more money than equivalent apps on Google Play is not news but what is interesting in these figures is that Amazon has no such problems making money from Android apps.
The comparison between Google and Amazon is not entirely like-for-like since Amazon’s store is US-only at present and has less than 10% of the titles that Google has. The difference in performance is striking nonetheless and perhaps explains the recent Google Play rebranding that positions Google’s app store as a more direct competitor to Amazon’s digital content store. Google also reportedly has the Kindle Fire in its sights with its own 7-inch Android tablet in the works.
Having previously added tablet support to the Android version of the educational flag recognition game Flagpole, we’ve now brought the iOS version up to speed with proper iPad support (including support for landscape orientations). This new version (version 1.3) is available on the App Store now.
When considering building a smartphone app for your business, it is important to understand the nature of your target audience. The landscape changes rapidly and differs from country to country. There are multiple mostly incompatible smartphone platforms battling for supremacy, constantly gaining or losing market share. Yesterday’s top dog might be tomorrow’s has been.
A glut of surveys are published throughout the year that attempt to provide an overview of the current state of the smartphone world but often they just end up adding to the confusion. I lost count of how many separate occasions Android was reported to have overtaken the iPhone in the last year. The problem is that the surveys often measure different things in different ways. Some count only new activations while others monitor total device ownership. Sometimes they can’t even agree on the definition of a smartphone and, even if they can, the data presented in one survey is often from a different territory to the data in another survey.
Any surveys that you consult have to be interpreted carefully if you are going to use them as the basis for important decisions such as which platform(s) to prioritise. The first question to consider is where are your target audience? If your business is constrained by geography then you’re only really interested in local statistics, for instance those for the UK. Alternatively, if you aim to reach the entire English-speaking world then the data for the much bigger US market is more significant. And if you intend to engage in multiple languages across the world then you should be looking at global data.
Secondly, while surveys based on the number of new activations provide a good indication of where the market is heading, they don’t tell you how many users each platform has right now. Many users are tied into 18-month or 24-month contracts with mobile operators. They are still potential users of your app but they don’t show up in the new activations surveys because they are not buying new devices.
With all this in mind, I wanted to highlight a couple of surveys that have been published in the past week that provide a useful snapshot of where things stand right now (as of the end of the third quarter of 2011). The first is from Kantar Worldpanel ComTech and covers Great Britain. It shows that 43.8% of the population now owns a smartphone (and this is increasing significantly with 69.1% of new phones sold being smartphones). Half (49.9%) of British smartphones run Android, a phenomenal increase over the last 18 months. RIM’s Blackberries (22.5%) are in second place ahead of Apple’s iPhones (18.5%), suggesting that the oft-predicted demise of the Canadian manufacturer is yet to materialise in the UK. Microsoft’s Windows phones have been almost completely ignored by British buyers so far.
The second survey, from Nielsen, provides an equivalent view of the US market. The ratio of smartphones to non-smartphones (43% vs. 57%) is almost identical. Android is number one in America too but not quite as dominant with a stronger showing from Apple pushing RIM into third place. Microsoft has at least registered on the other side of the Atlantic but is still a distant fourth.
The broad similarity of the UK and US figures might lead you to assume that the picture is the same across the world. That’s not the case and if you plan to target other countries you should strive to determine the local situation. As an example, in parts of Asia the popularity of Android is even higher, driven in part by loyalty to home-grown brands. For instance, figures from the previous quarter show 85% Android penetration in South Korea, home to Samsung and LG, and 71% in Taiwan where HTC is based.
There are many important milestones in the early life of a new country. The declaration of independence, diplomatic recognition from other states, and membership of the United Nations to name just a few.
South Sudan is the world’s newest country. It gained independence on July 9th this year and joined the United Nations five days later, but until now it has lacked the prestige of an entry in Rectangular Software’s Flagpole mobile app.
South Sudan becomes the 234th flag to feature in our educational game for Android and iPhone. The updated Android app is available now on the Android Market. The iPhone update has been submitted to the App Store and should be available soon. Also included in these versions is the change of Libya’s flag back to the pre-Gaddafi red, black and green design.