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Android, iPhone, BlackBerry: Which OS is best for app development?

iPhone, BlackBerry are popular smartphone development choices; Android seen as wild card

By Brad Reed, Network World
December 03, 2009 12:44 PM ET

Network World - Let's say that you're a software developer who has created a hot new application for smartphones that you're certain is about to take the world by storm. Your work isn't quite done and here's the problem: not only will your brilliant and innovative application have to compete with several other applications that have similar ambitions, but it will have to compete with them over multiple platforms.

With so many different mobile operating systems on the market right now, it can be daunting for an upstart software developer to make a name for itself.

Not surprisingly, there's no one solution for software developers looking to thrive in the mobile application business. Every operating system has different strengths and weaknesses and something to offer developers. Take the iPhone's operating system, which has consistently received praise from users for its ease of use and for hosting an applications store that has well over 100,000 apps to choose from. While this operating systems sounds like a dream for many developers, some have said that the sheer number of apps they have to compete with has made the going tough.

What's stopping mobile apps from taking next step? 

"The iPhone is easier to develop for than other operating systems, but harder to make money on," says Paul Reddick, the CEO of software developer Handmark, which specializes in making mobile news applications. "Even though it's relatively easy to get your app onto the App Store, it's not easy when you have 100,000 people that you're rubbing shoulders with. So the key thing is to figure out how get yourself discovered."

Of course, the fact that so many developers want to make applications for the iPhone is more a sign of its success than of weakness. Additionally, some developers say that the device's uniform screen size makes creating applications for it a relative breeze. So while an application designed for BlackBerry or Android devices might have to be tweaked to fit different screen sizes, an app for the iPhone operating system will only have to fit into the iPhone's screen.

"The iPhone's biggest strength from a developer's standpoint is that it's one size fits all," says Keith Pichelman, CEO for Concrete Software, a company that specializes in developing popular games such as Sid Meier's Pirates for mobile platforms. "Those are the big challenges for all the other platforms that have wide variations in screen size."

However, Pichelman says that the operating system that his company has most enjoyed working with so far has been that of  the BlackBerry. (See: Best BlackBerry apps of 2009.)  The best part, he says, has been the helpfulness of Research in Motion, which he says gives Concrete specific guidelines for how to get their apps approved and up on BlackBerry App World.

"They have been extremely helpful with tech contacts and with public relations contacts and it's been that way for years now," he says. "I would love to see Apple take a similar approach. From the outside view they're doing really well but it's just tough from our point of view working with them sometimes where we don't know what they're going to approve and not approve."

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