WIP/VDCC Recap: Cross-Platform Conversations

This week, MMM participated with WIP at the Verizon Developer Conference. We were invited by WIP to annotate the UnPanel session on day two, but ended up contributing towards one of the session conversations on cross-platform development.

As many developers find out quickly, and some users have figured out as they have gotten into Google Android-powered mobile devices, or have moved from one mobile platform to another, there are times when applications or content just doesn’t work so well. We kind of think about data as being something that is easy to transfer from one platform to another, but such doings are ripe with challenges and opportunities. At the Verizon Developer Conference (VDCC), we participated in facilitating a few panel discussions on cross-platform development and some of the challenges. The following three items came up the most in these conversations.

The number one issue that developers said that they faced when trying to take an application, or apply a service across several mobile devices, is this issue of fragmentation. Fragmentation is basically when you have a single platform (for example Google Android), but there are variances in how that platform is implemented across devices. These variances can include input mechanisms (touch, keyboard, etc.), application program interfaces (APIs) which talk to hardware or services, and even carrier-specific functionality which doesn’t line up across the same device on different carriers (for example, cell ID information).

What happens is that when a new update to a platform comes out, or an offshoot of a current platform is produced, developers have to code their applications and/or services to account for these changes. And especially in the case of non-Apple iOS devices (where things are commonly similar across all of these devices), this causes the developer to have to spend more time acquiring the resources to test and approve their software across these variant platforms.

One of the things that frequently came to mind is the challenge that many of the developers of Bible software have towards this issue. I wonder how many of you deal with fragmentation, and whether you share the opinion that this isn’t something that’s going away, but might be solved with better tools?

Another impact to cross-platform development that was talked about in these sessions was that of communication with the carrier. For example, while fragmentation is an issue, developers who are proactive would like to hear from the carrier something towards devices, APIs, etc. which might not be support or might change when platforms are updated so that they can be faster able to adapt their products to those new devices.

On the carrier side, its difficult to respond to everyone individually, and so carrier involvement in developer networks, standards bodies, and a general attention to being open in communication is something that Verizon and others are doing a lot more of. The challenge for them (of course) is to be open without impacting their abilities to continue to offer differentiated products and services.

To you who are developers, or even users, what kinds of communication strategies would you like to see from developers, carriers, and other service providers to better allow you to make the move from one platform to another? Or, does this even matter, do you just need things to work?

Up-to-Date Market Information
Of the many issues that developers can have in making sure that they have a solid application or service, one of their challenges is making sure that they have up-to-date market information about platforms. Verizon’s Developer Center has some upcoming things in this area, as do some other developer networks. But, this is still the challenge.

As a resource and analyst, one of the challenges is always to promote the statistics and the information that allows developers to make sound decisions towards where they can make solid applications. For example, you will never hear MMM tell you that Symbian isn’t a good platform to develop for, unless your target audience for your content is in an area where Symbian is not a primary focus for the carrier/user base. In the same accord, as a developer, you have to broaden your research and analysis horizons beyond just those persons who are “louder” about what positions they have, and make sure that you are seeing those folks who are holding a contrary viewpoint.

That being said, it is difficult for many people to both develop an application/service, and keep on top of market trends. What would you like to see more of in terms of getting up-to-date market information for your respective target audiences? Where do you go for information now, and are those areas sufficient?

During the time at the Verizon Developer Conference, I was exposed to a subset of some of the general opinions that I hear developers go through. Much of MMM’s viewpoints are formed and spoken of in global contexts – this was a chance to center in on a specific US (only) carrier and what issues matter to them.

Stay tuned as in a future post we’ll talk some about these specific challenges and opportunities. And what you can do as developers and as a notable target market (re: faith-based organizations) to make your applications more visible and profitable both spiritually and economically.