By Peter Crocker
Standardizing software platforms as a measure to control costs will be a central theme for the mobile software and handset markets in the years to come. In developed countries, the mobile voice services market is saturated and network operators are seeking new sources of revenue. As data services fill that void, new software features are needed to drive these shifting business models.
Yet, a recent survey by Venture Development Corp. (VDC) reveals that mobile developers face a number of specific challenges, including:
* The difficulty in developing meaningful solutions for such resource-constrained devices;
* The ability to efficiently develop cross-platform solutions.
Mobile Linux is facing the opportunity to capture a large portion of the mobile operating system market. The promise of Linux is to support high portability of applications and reduce the time spent developing and customizing applications. But the barrier to its widespread adoption is the fragmentation of the technology. There are so many versions of Linux in the market that it costs more to integrate applications in Linux than in other operating systems.
The lack of meaningful standards virtually prohibits developers from cost-effectively creating solutions that can leverage the large unit volume of the mobile enterprise. For example, according to the VDC survey, it takes 18.4 weeks to develop mobile software solutions today; this needs to be significantly reduced. The survey also reveals that developments for Linux-based solutions typically take longer than projects for Windows-based clients. This can be explained by Linux's high level of fragmentation.
The Linux community is taking steps to agree on a single version of Linux, but they have to work quickly. VDC projects that the Linux community has 18-24 months to standardize before enterprises invest development dollars in their own favorite flavors of Linux. This will trigger permanent fragmentation, reduced innovation and a growth slowdown. The entry of Google further complicates the market. If Google can be a consolidating force, it can add real value to the industry. Otherwise, Google's Android will futher fuel fragmentation and do a disservice to an industry where the company currently has little exposure.
The User Interface
Customization of user interfaces (UI) is also driving growth in the mobile software market. In our highly competitive marketplace, operators and handset manufacturers use new and flashy (and hopefully user-friendly) interfaces to differentiate their products. Yet, software designers say UIs are their greatest development time-sinks. User tastes differ around the world, which means flexible and portable platforms are needed. As a result, UI tools are a big opportunity for commercial third-party solutions.
Balancing requirements for standardization with the ability to support customization is critical. Significant strides have been made but major limitations remain. Critical to the development of the mobile software stack will be:
* Greater ease of development tools;
* Improved processes and documentation;
* Availability of scalable and secure standardsbased components.
These all must afford enterprises the freedom to add value through customizable solutions.
Peter Crocker is an Analyst with the Mobile & Wireless Practice at Venture Development Corp.