SkyHook, the people who have the misfortune of competing with Google in providing a (apparently quite good) hybrid positioning system, have counted the number of location-aware apps available for iPhones, Android and Blackberry. Those numbers are surprisingly low, if you ask me: Out of the 140,000 apps in the App Store, only 6,000 are location-aware. For Android the number is 900, and for Blackberry 300.
But most striking of all is the number of (location-aware) apps that are available across all three platforms: 43. (And the number of these which are paid apps: 6.) More than anything, this points to the sorry state of cross-platform app development for mobile devices. In particular if you take into account that the world’s largest smartphone platform, Symbian (roughly 45% market share) is entirely left out of this picture. Of course, on Symbian, the simple task of developing an app that works across the many variations of that platform is in itself a herculean task.
The report’s conclusion is interesting, if not surprising:
Developers who choose to sell their apps across multiple platforms are focused on generating app downloads rather than sales revenues. As a result, cross-platform applications are usually free. In contrast, if a developer is more focused on generating sales, they are more likely to focus solely on premium iPhone apps. This report suggests that the iPhone app store is the go-to distribution point for revenue-focused app developers.
A reasonable interpretation of this is that the increased revenue from selling apps on several different platforms is not enough to pay for the increased development costs of cross-platform development – so it is only worth it if the income from selling the app is not its main purpose.
On the other hand, it also seems that there is an opportunity out there for whichever platform makers want to grab it: If two platform makers – let’s say, the open-source projects behind Symbian and Android – could manage to agree on some common standard which would make it simple to make apps that worked on both platforms, they would gain a significant advantage with respect to the other platforms. Symbian has the market share on devices, Android has the app market – sounds like a match made in… well, my dreams I guess. Or perhaps more likely, multi-platform-chaos nightmares. But it would have been nice if it could work…