Apps

Selecting a platform for initial app development

Developers should consider these factors when deciding which app platform will allow development to proceed quickly, and enable questions about customer needs, tech decisions, and more.

There are a lot of ways to develop a mobile app for multiple platforms, but a small development studio will likely need to focus their efforts on developing and deploying the app first on just one platform. Selecting which platform to begin with depends on a number of factors.

The biggest smartphone platforms that are likely to be at the top of many developers' agendas are Android, iOS, and BlackBerry. Let's focus on a few scenarios to help you decide which platform is best for your app.

Leverage existing assets

As with selecting a development framework, the best target platform might depend on existing assets or skill sets that you can leverage for this app. For example, if you have significant HTML5 assets, BlackBerry 10 could be a good target because it directly supports HTML5. On other platforms, HTML5 performance (and capabilities) are currently more limited, which means that transitioning to those other platforms may be problematic. Developers who have code assets from a Mac app, may find it to be fastest to port the app to iOS, and to a degree Java code may be a good candidate for an Android app.

On the other hand, when developing a new app that will be eventually deployed on many platforms it may make sense to start with a platform-agnostic framework. There are quite a few options for developing a multi-platform app (read about app development frameworks). In these cases, there may be other factors to help you decide which platform to target first.

Deploy and iterate rapidly

Android shines when it comes to rapid iteration. Updates to apps on Google Play can be released and will appear in users' hands within hours. When reducing iteration time is critical, an app store without a QA approval cycle can speed things up greatly. This allows getting feedback and updating apps on a very short cycle.

The app approval delays and rejections from Apple are legendary, and require developer consideration when planning. BlackBerry also has an approval process, but it is not usually quite as lengthy as Apple.

Validate idea with large audience

If validating an idea with a large audience is your primary goal, it isn't entirely clear which platform would be best. Each platform has different characteristics.

The iOS app store has a solid reputation for having a lot of paying customers; however, the competition has grown so fierce that new apps have trouble getting noticed. BlackBerry numbers are an unknown with the recent release of BlackBerry 10, but this platform has traditionally been strongest with sales of business-related apps. For sheer number of downloads of free apps, Android may be the best option. With over one million activations per day, Android can provide a very large number of potential users.

Getting downloads is also affected by app quality, text description, screen shots, and marketing; therefore, it's hard to use download numbers as the main metric for measuring the validity of an app concept. Instead, statistical information about the behavior of users (such as in-app purchasing) can be very informative.  Good analytics options exist for all of these platforms, such as Google's Mobile Analytics and many other free or paid options.

Proceed to other platforms

This short list is by no means exhaustive, but it should give you an idea of factors to consider. The goal of this decision isn't to pick a single platform for the app's entire lifecycle but rather to pick the platform that will allow development to proceed quickly, and enable the important questions (customer needs, technical decisions, etc.) to be answered. This is a lot to juggle while keeping the scope of the project as contained as possible until it's time to target the next platform.

Also read: Four Android platforms that will change your life

About

Tim Mackenzie, author of the Android Income Series books, is a software engineer that escaped the cubicle world at a large company to go solo with Android app development. He uses this freedom to teach others how to make money with Android apps. Visi...

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