Monday, December 3, 2012

Choosing a Mobile Development Platform

There are a lot of discussions about how to choose the development platform that software developers should use for development and marketing of tablet and smartphone apps. The main considerations for microISVs include market penetration, the effectiveness of the platform's online app store, the typical retail price of apps for each platform, and the quality of the development tools that are available.

Before finalizing your decision, though, take a serious look at two issues that businesses are worried about, from the smallest startup to the largest Fortune-100 enterprise: Consumerization and BYOD.

Consumerization

Consumerization is a relatively recent trend in which the latest hardware and software is first introduced into the consumer marketplace. After the new technology gains acceptance there, it finds its way into the business world.

Consumerization is a relatively recent trend in which the latest hardware and software is first introduced into the consumer marketplace. After the new technology gains acceptance there, it finds its way into the business world.

That's not the way it used to be. Handheld calculators were first built for - and priced for - the business and government marketplaces. As they gained acceptance, and mass production allowed prices to drop significantly, calculators were sold to consumers, too.

It was the same with computers. Prior to the introduction of personal computers, all data processing technology was first introduced into the business community. After the technology gained a foothold and prices dropped, the equipment became affordable enough for small businesses. Personal computing technology made a similar voyage from business use to home use.

With consumerization, items like smartphones and tablets were first introduced into the end-user marketplace. Only later have businesses started to determine how these devices should be used at work.

This new consumerization trend is changing the way IT managers do business today. And it affects microISVs' decisions regarding which platform to select for their tablet and smartphone development work.
If you choose, say, iOS and the majority of the business world selects a particular flavor of Android, then your choice will hurt your income stream.

BYOD

"Bring your own device" or BYOD is a huge consideration for today's IT managers in firms of all sizes. Regardless of whether or not an enterprise has a BYOD policy in place, it's a fact: Employees are bringing their smartphones and tablets to work, and using them on their companies' networks.

In the May 4, 2012 issue of Processor magazine, an article cites a recent study by IDC on the BYOD trend in companies worldwide.  Nearly half of the businesses surveyed (49.5%) had no BYOD policy in place. Twenty-seven percent were testing a pilot BYOD policy. A little over ten percent had a policy that was currently being implemented. And only 13.1% had their BYOD policy in place.

Many IT managers are starting to think about the costs and security issues that surround the use of smartphones and tablets at work. Some of the IT managers are even asking the basic question: Will the company benefit if some or most of its employees use their personal mobile devices on the company network?

A more recent survey, published in the August 24, 2012 issue of Processor magazine, sheds some light on the costs of BYOD. Lieberman Software surveyed IT managers who already allow BYOD in their companies. They found that 67 percent of respondents said that BYOD has resulted in higher expenses. Of the people who said that their costs have increased,
  • 42 percent said that employees' devices caused a virus
  • 26 percent said that employees lost their device
  • 22 percent said that employees stole data from the company
  • 10 percent had no answer or a combination of responses
IT support is another huge issue surrounding BYOD. And the notion of supporting the Android market is frightening to a lot of IT directors. If your BYOD policy allows Android devices to be used in the workplace, then you're going to have to support a wide variety of hardware designs, a significant number of operating system versions, a wider array of malware with the potential to disrupt individual devices as well as the entire network, multiple data backup and restoration regimens, and a lot of applications that may only run on certain proprietary mobile devices.

Because of the support complexities of Android, the iPad, with its well-defined hardware specifications and the orderly rollout of software, is likely to be the choice of many IT policy makers. Microsoft's introduction of Windows 8 will have a major impact on BYOD decisions.

I'm not suggesting that software developers abandon Android and jump on the iPad or Windows 8 bandwagons. There are a number of ways that corporate support for mobile devices might evolve, and these choices will ultimately affect the overall market penetration for each group of mobile devices -

(1) BYOD with no rules

Some enterprises will establish a BYOD policy that allows all employees to bring their favorite tablets and smartphones to work. In fact, many workplaces will have "BYOD with no rules" as their de facto policy because they simply won't adopt any policy.

(2) BYOD policies for each operating unit

Some companies will let each operating unit establish its own policy for mobile devices. While this sounds like a reasonable plan, those of us who watched the introduction of PCs into the business world in the early 1980s will remember the chaos that followed.

In the early 1980s, I was doing application development work for a Fortune-200 insurance company in greater Hartford Connecticut. The insurance industry didn't buy TRS-80 or Apple-II machines when they came out. But they quickly stuck their corporate toes in the IBM PC waters when these new machines became available.

Back then, each operating unit decided which software to buy. The two hot word processors were Word and WordPerfect. The three best-selling databases were dBASE, Paradox and R:Base. Spreadsheets included VisiCalc, Lotus 1-2-3, and eventually Quattro.

IT support quickly became a nightmare. The IT people were expected to be conversant in multiple versions of all of these complicated applications. We'll see similar support problems if BYOD policies evolve at the operating unit level.

(3) Corporate standards for mobile devices

In many companies in the mid-1980s, the nightmare described above evolved into the implementation of rigid corporate standards for both hardware and software applications. Corporations made centralized decisions on which technology would be implemented and supported. If you used a non-supported application and you had a problem, you were on your own to find a solution. If you used a non-supported application and it crashed the operating system or interfered with supported applications, you had a more serious problem.

Within a few years, the companies' IT departments pre-installed all of the accepted software on every machine that was placed on employees' desks, and workers were not allowed to install their own utilities, business applications, or games.

Which platform is right for you?

Turning the calendar forward to 2012 - What will today's corporations do about consumerization and BYOD? The iPad is today's safest bet. If a significant percentage of large enterprises lock into Windows 8 or into Apple's technology, the Android-based competitors are going to have a difficult time gaining or keeping market share. But don't expect large enterprises to find the most logical path.

The decision of large enterprises certainly shouldn't be the only criterion that you use to decide which platform to use for your app software development. But it's an important data point. Keep track of which way the corporate IT wind is blowing when it comes to consumerization and BYOD, and factor their policies into your hardware and software decisions.

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