Proprietary Mobile Platforms

It came as no surprise that users wanted more—they will always want more.

Writing robust applications with WAP, such as graphic-intensive video games, was nearly impossible.The 18-year-old to 25-year-old sweet-spot demographic—the kids with the disposable income most likely to personalize their phones with wallpapers and ringtones—looked at their portable gaming systems and asked for a device that was both a phone and a gaming device or a phone and a music player.They argued that if devices such as Nintendo's Game Boy could provide hours of entertainment with only five buttons, why not just add phone capabilities? Others looked to their digital cameras, Palms, BlackBerries, iPods, and even their laptops and asked the same question.The market seemed to be teetering on the edge of device convergence.

Memory was getting cheaper, batteries were getting better, and PDAs and other embedded devices were beginning to run compact versions of common operating systems such as Linux and Windows.The traditional desktop application developer was suddenly a player in the embedded device market, especially with smartphone technologies such as Windows Mobile, which they found familiar.

Handset manufacturers realized that if they wanted to continue to sell traditional handsets, they needed to change their protectionist policies pertaining to handset design and expose their internal frameworks to some extent.

A variety of different proprietary platforms emerged—and developers are still actively creating applications for them. Some smartphone devices ran Palm OS (now Garnet OS) and RIM BlackBerry OS. Sun Microsystems took its popular Java platform and J2ME emerged (now known as Java Micro Edition [Java ME]). Chipset maker Qualcomm developed and licensed its Binary Runtime Environment for Wireless (BREW). Other platforms, such as Symbian OS, were developed by handset manufacturers such as Nokia, Sony Ericsson, Motorola, and Samsung.The Apple iPhone OS (OS X iPhone) joined the ranks in 2008. Figure 1.4 shows several different phones, all of which have different development platforms.

Many of these platforms have associated developer programs.These programs keep the developer communities small, vetted, and under contractual agreements on what they can and cannot do. These programs are often required and developers must pay for them.

Each platform has benefits and drawbacks. Of course, developers love to debate about which platform is "the best." (Hint: It's usually the platform we're currently developing for.)

The truth is that no one platform has emerged victorious. Some platforms are best suited for commercializing games and making millions—if your company has brand backing. Other platforms are more open and suitable for the hobbyist or vertical market applications. No mobile platform is best suited for all possible applications. As a result, the mobile phone has become increasingly fragmented, with all platforms sharing part of the pie.

Figure 1.4 Phones from various mobile device platforms.

For manufacturers and mobile operators, handset product lines quickly became complicated. Platform market penetration varies greatly by region and user demographic. Instead of choosing just one platform, manufacturers and operators have been forced to sell phones for all the different platforms to compete in the market.We've even seen some handsets supporting multiple platforms. (For instance, Symbian phones often also support J2ME.)

The mobile developer community has become as fragmented as the market. It's nearly impossible to keep track of all the changes in the market. Developer specialty niches have formed. The platform development requirements vary greatly. Mobile software developers work with distinctly different programming environments, different tools, and different programming languages. Porting among the platforms is often costly and not straightforward. Keeping track of handset configurations and testing requirements, signing and certification programs, carrier relationships, and application marketplaces have become complex spin-off businesses of their own.

It's a nightmare for the ACME Company that wants a mobile application. Should it develop a J2ME application? BREW? iPhone? Windows Mobile? Everyone has a different kind of phone.ACME is forced to choose one or, worse, all of the platforms. Some platforms allow for free applications, whereas others do not.Vertical market application opportunities are limited and expensive.

As a result, many wonderful applications have not reached their desired users, and many other great ideas have not been developed at all.

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