New mobile market share figures this week from Gartner show an overwhelming dominance by Android, and see smartphone sales overtake feature phones for the first time. But what does that mean for developers?
Smartphone picture from Shutterstock
The key figures from Gartner for smartphone sales by operating system in the second quarter of 2013 (the period from April to June):
- Android accounts for 79 per cent of the market, up from 64 per cent in the same quarter last year.
- iOS takes second place, with 14.2 per cent of the market, down from 18.8 per cent in Q2 2012.
- Windows Phone has overtaken BlackBerry for third place, with 3.3 per cent of the market, up from 2.6 per cent.
- BlackBerry has 2.7 per cent of the market, down from 5.2 per cent at this time last year. Given that the long-delayed BB10 devices were out in most markets by this point, that isn't a particularly pleasing result, obviously.
- Bada, Symbian and 'other' cover just 1 per cent — though that still equates to around 1.5 million devices.
During that period, smart phones accounted for 51.8 per cent of total mobile phone sales. That means smart phones are now dominant, but only just; there are still a lot of people, largely in developing markets, still purchasing feature phones, which present minimal opportunities for app developers. (These figures don't include tablets, by the way; in that space, Apple still has a lead, albeit not the absolute dominance it enjoyed when the iPad launched.)
While the most obvious interpretation of those numbers would be that Android represents the biggest target market, the reality is a little more complex. For starters, there's still a very large pool of existing iOS device owners who represent a potential target for app developers, whether you're building to sell to a general market or working on tools for in-enterprise use.
A similar logic applies to BlackBerry; while it has slipped behind Windows Phone, there is a far larger pool of existing BlackBerry device owners. With that said, BlackBerry's announcement this week that it is weighing up partnerships, sales or other strategic changes is all but an admission that the shift to BB10 hasn't pushed the market in the right direction. The ability to (relatively) easily shift apps between Windows Phone and Windows 8 also makes Microsoft a potentially more appealing place to develop, although enthusiasm for apps on those platforms has also been relatively muted.
Whichever platform you choose, mobile app development remains challenging. Apple has an enthused base which readily installs apps, but the vast majority of those are free and being noticed can be difficult. Developing for Android is tricky if you want to cover the full range of devices; targeting only Samsung's more recent models will still get you a large potential base. Windows Phone is still a relatively small target and the claims for the number of competing apps are a little rubbery.