Developers Giving Alternative Mobile Platforms a New Look

The iPhone has been top dog in the mobile world for the past two years. It’s apparent when you look at the App Store and how well the iPhone platform has fared, even amidst the economic recession the world has been experiencing. In the mobile developer community, the iPhone has been a holy grail. Apps can be built in short order, the UI is beautiful, some fantastic widgets and the App Store provides an awesome distribution channel (especially if you get in the Top Apps charts)

Companies of all shapes and sizes are looking to get their apps quickly built and listed in the App Store. Enterprises, who before didn’t even give mobile a second thought, are looking to build mobile strategies built around Apps for the iPod touch and iPhone. For example, it’s been reported Pizza Hut has made over USD $1 Million on their app (I wonder if they provide little wipes with each delivery so you don’t smear your beloved touch screen with your sticky tomato fingers)

However, as any iPhone developer would tell you, working the the Apple and the App Store can be a challenge. Recently, Joe Hewitt of Facebook has publicized his displeasure with Apple’s practices. While respecting Apple’s ability to run their App Store according to it’s rules, Hewitt has stopped developing the application out of frustration.

There is a silver lining for application developers. A year ago, the iPhone was by far the leading platform developers looked at, but the game has changed in recent months. And competition is good for everyone.

With the surge of the Android mobile OS, developers have a new platform that is lucrative and attractive. Android OS is based on languages and APIs that developers are already comfortable with and the operating system is fully open source. Also, the Android Market is much more democratic and allows developers to publish their applications in a much more fluid way.

The Palm Pre is another ‘alternative’ which runs WebOS – a platform based on HTML, CSS, and JavaScript – three technologies mobile web app developers are very familiar with.

While the Apple’s App Store has 100,000 apps, the app market places on the other platforms has yet to boast these types of numbers. The Android Market has around 10,000 applications and Palm Pre users have a few hundred to choose from. However, volume isn’t everything – many of the App Store apps available are repetitive and quality can vary.

Finally, Symbian is a platform that should not be overlooked, however many developers I talk to are frustrated with developing for this platform. While the number of handsets is staggering, developing for each individual handset (because Nokia tweaks S60 in so many different ways) can be a developer’s nightmare.

The one new facet with S60/Symbian development is the new Widget architecture that is popular on the Nokia N97 and N900 handsets. These new devices support homescreen widgets that bring web applications to your mobile handsets in a new way. Existing ones include Facebook, Accuweather, and so on. They’re relatively easy to build compared to full applications.

In conclusion, the Apple iPhone and the App Store is a highly effective way to build and distribute your mobile applications. However, there are other options available to developers that are now starting to become viable alternatives. If you’re a developer or company looking to build out your mobile strategy, give all these platforms a look, different strokes for different folks …