Software Developer Mythology: iPhone Apps are Important
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Seriously your mobile strategy can exclude iPhone, you don’t need to support that platform – it isn’t really that important.
Before you move to the comment to call me a Microsoft kool-aid guzzling fanboy, let me explain. I see three reasons that fuel the myth that iPhone is an important platform and they are:
- Lies, Damned Lies & Statistics
- The FNB Effect
- Development is hard for these other platforms
Lies, Damned Lies & Statistics
I have been totally guilty of helping this cause of the myth prevail by standing in front of thousands of Windows Phone 7 developers & showing how Gartner & IDC both predicted that Windows Phone would grow to 2nd place behind Android by 2015, pushing ahead of iPhone – which at the time the stats said was the number two smart phone OS.
The truth is, Windows Phone is ALREADY ahead of iPhone. It also leads Android. Really, it does – maybe not world wide or even in your country, but in South Africa it does.
In South Africa the picture is very different, Symbian leads by a massive margin (44%) followed by BlackBerry (15%), then Windows Phone (9%), forth place is Android (8%) and last is iPhone (4%).
The problem is we look at these analysts and international reports and assume they apply to us – they do not and should not influence our understanding of our market.
The FNB Effect
First National Bank, the bank that launched the first transactional smart phone app in South Africa & changed how we look at banking and did a lot to jump start app developed from companies. What platform did they launch on? iPhone & much (much) later an Android app was launched too – still no Windows Phone, Symbian or Blackberry app (or as I see it 68% of the market). Since there the number of times I have heard competing banks & companies in other industries start their mobile strategy with “FNB has iPhone – our customers expect iPhone”.
Those people are idiots. Their customers do not expect iPhone because FNB had an iPhone app, they expect an app for THEIR phone.
There are two sub-points to also consider with this factor which are vitally important in understanding why FNB’s choice of iPhone worked for them & why it may be right or wrong for your mobile strategy.
Know you customers
This is as much about the FNB effect as it is about statistics – looking at the statistics even for a country is almost completely flawed too. You need to look at what your customers have. To help explain this, let’s compare two companies who both produced an iPhone app:
For Discovery it totally makes sense to have an iPhone. Private health care & life insurance are expensive and really only the top portions of the country can afford it. That is the same market who buys iPhone. You market has iPhone, you build iPhone.
SABC, like so much at the national broadcaster, needs to appeal to the broad population. So they should be looking at the total market share and building based on that. The issue makes less sense when you think that DSTV’s news channels & eTV’s news appeal to the upper LM groups more – so in reality SABC SHOULD be targeting the lower income groups who buy cheap Symbian & Blackberry phones. They didn’t & it is just stupid of them.
In fact they should have a mobi site since that would allow even broader reach – but of course that doesn’t quiet work either…
FNB app isn’t special – their marketing dept. is
The FNB app isn’t special. At best the app idea was a just smart business seeing what the rest of the world is doing & getting on the band wagon first. So why do we care? Because FNB’s marketing dept. is so damn amazing, they made it an important point in many of their adverts. They used it to highlight how far ahead they were & how slow & old their competitors are. They also used it in an aspirational way to appeal to lower income groups: One day I will be rich & own an iPhone. Then I want to be at a bank with an app.
All four of the major banks in South Africa have apps for iPhone now & still we only ever talk about FNB. This isn’t because theirs is the best – but because they sold their app the best. They own the mind share.
A second aspect to this story is FNB have made it ridiculously easy to get an iPhone with them – which firstly pushes up their stats of which platforms are important and secondly re-enforces the marketing stories: Wish your bank had an app? Wish you had a phone that could run an app? Come to FNB, we make it easy to have both.
Development is hard for these other platforms
The final contributing factor to myth that iPhone is the first port of call, is from the prima donna’s involved in these strategies. You may know them as software developers. These folks will tell you that development for Symbian is tougher than milking a rattlesnake & development for Blackberry is tougher than getting a date with Megan Fox. iPhone, Android & Windows Phone development is easy by comparison and so you can get it a lot cheaper/quicker/better.
That is, naturally, complete bull shit. It is easier because these are sexier platforms and because of that
- they don’t want to feel like an idiot when sharing what they do with their friends – who knows? Megan Fox maybe there and who will she date the iPhone dev or the Symbian dev? (I call this embarrassment tax – you pay extra for a developer to be embarrassed)
- they likely have the devices today and understand the platforms already because they played with it in their free time. I am talking about platform & not development. Understanding why something works on a platform is just as important as learning to code for it.
- they like the fact they do not need to learn new languages/tools. Android & Windows Phone developers are especially bad here since it is the top most common development platforms .NET & Java.
In reality Symbian is a marvellously stable & well developed platform with many tools. In fact, if you don’t need a transactional app, they have tools that are completely code-less (i.e. everything is done visually). I haven’t ever worked with Blackberry myself, so I can’t comment on their tools but I have been on projects where someone else did BlackBerry work & I did Windows Phone. In those scenarios we were mostly matched for development performance and any difference was not because of the tooling.
Lastly, with tools like PhoneGap & Worklight getting better all the time, the need to native apps is getting REALLY small – you can easily use web development skills with those tools to create hybrid apps for BlackBerry & Symbian. There seems to be this belief though that if you go hybrid you go all in – which is totally bullshit too. I can totally see a native app built for your premier clients & then using hybrid, which may be a second rate experience, to clean up the rest of the market share platforms have in your customers.
In reality iPhone maybe the right choice to go for. The issue is there are so many people who do not apply their minds to what they really need. Rather these lazy people who make the decisions or feed information into the decision makers just regurgitate the bullshit that is out their. What I have hoped to highlight is there is no one right strategy but with a bit of thought & investigation you can find the one that is right for you and more importantly, your customers.