Mobile Platforms: Too much choice or Hobson’s choice?

momlondon.pngLast night’s MoMo London was very interesting. It was billed as…

"With the growing interest in Ajax and Widgets, and initiatives like BONDI, the choice of development platform has never been greater. How do these technologies play against or with more traditional approaches like installable J2ME and Native Apps."

Instead of the usual presentation format, the evening was a panel driven event chaired by Annie Turner, Editor, telecomseurope.net. Panellists were Simon Rockman (SonyEricsson), Nick Allott (OMTP), Marko Balabanovic (lastminute.com), Ben Last (EMCC) and Ricardo Varela (Yahoo!).

I had expected the evening to compare and contrast new and existing technologies – which would have been boring. Instead the event seemed to end up following some different themes..

1. Does platform fragmentation matter?
2. How do the current new cross platform efforts (Yahoo! Blueprint and OMTP in particular) differ from one another and will they ever converge on the same thing?
3. Will the number of development platforms continue to increase?

Since I work with the ‘here and now’, I was more interested in #1 and will leave others to comment and speculate on #2 and #3. Simon from Sony Ericsson gave the contrarian view that addressing a small % of the market doesn’t matter. He has the (probably personal rather than company) opinion that a highly optimised platform for a small market allows for product/service differentiation which can lead to improved usability and customer satisfaction. Conversely, generic cross platform technologies can lead to ‘lazy’ products/services that are essentially all the same.

Simon reminded us that a small % of a very large market is still a sizeable number of people. A great example of this is the iPhone where a specialised platform and very small market share is supporting a highly viable 3rd party application ecosystem. Maybe our focus on platforms is incorrect. Maybe we should be concentrating on end to end systems that solve all the user experience challenges. Ben, from EMCC, backed up Simon’s views when he said that if you have an enterprise application, supporting just S60 and RIM would get you most of the enterprise market.

In practice, I think the answer to all of this is… ‘It depends’. As Marko said, "It’s a different model really". Simon’s requirement for selling phones (and services on phones) is different to lastminute.com’s requirement to make their services mobile for as many people as possible.

If you have an application or service that can target a specialised market, then fragmentation may not matter.