This a follow-up to my last post on the Palm Pre, where I mentioned several existing mobile phone platforms and how they stack up: as far as use, consumer knowledge, and potential for writing software. I wanted to expand on that a bit. Note: this isn't going to a be a really deep look at them - more of a survey.

I'm going to compare them on three criteria:

  1. Distribution
    How easy is it to get an application on the platform? What rules or hurdles exist?
  2. Public Awareness
    Does the general buyer know that this platform exists and what it can do?
  3. User Understanding
    Does the owner of the platform know that they can extend their device with applications?

There are a few mobile platforms out there now that have any sense of a following1:

  1. RIM/Blackberry (the largest)
  2. Apple iPhone (2nd position)
  3. Windows Mobile (3rd position)
  4. Palm (4th position)
  5. Google Android
  6. "Other" Java-based phones



It's hard to imagine Blackberry not being the standard email mobile tool. Corporately and also, more recently, for everyone. And, more recently, Blackberrys have been popping up with all sorts of applications: Maps, Facebook, Media Player.

But RIM has never taken the API & platform seriously for external developers (in my opinion). Instead, they try to deliver all the applications to people. Sure there were ways for non-RIM developers to create applications for Blackberry - but there are some major security and distribution hurdles.

Distribution: Free, but installation is encumbered.

Public Awareness: Very High

User Understanding: Low-Moderate

Apple iPhone

Apple on the other hand, has chosen an approach that encourages (and depends on) external developers. Currently, there are 3 apps for the iPhone built by Apple available for download in the iTunes App store. That's it.

Of course, Apple has its tax in order to make the most cohesive and slick mobile platform around. Distribution must be through the Apple store - and they hold the keys (in the form of approval). Applications that duplicate functionality ( or offend the Apple gods in other ways) don't make the cut.

Distribution: Excellent, if you make something that is Apple-approved.

Public Awareness: Off the charts

User Understanding: Excellent

Windows Mobile (aka "PocketPC")

Windows Mobile is very useful. I have owned 5 Windows Mobile-based devices. I think they are great and the closest experience to a Windows machine that you can get on a mobile device. (This is good and bad: good: it means that it is more familiar. Bad: you find yourself rebooting the device and its a bit flaky to make networking work.)

Programming for Windows Mobile is a good spot. Anyone can install anything on their Windows Mobile device (again, very computer-like).

Distribution: Self, there is no single location for sale of such things. You really have to make your own inroads.

Public Awareness: Very Low

User Understanding: High


I thought they had folded. Seriously. But the Pre looks like a beautiful, if unnecessary device.

It remains to be seen how Palm will play this out for application development.

Google Android

Any list of mobile platforms would be remiss without Google's foray - even if there is, still, but 1 phone available.

Distribution: Will be the great. A marketplace for it, but far more freedom that Apple. The only way it may not be as good is that it remains to be seen if the find & install experience can be as good as the iPhone find & install experience.

Public Awareness: Low-Moderate

User Understanding: Excellent. If you're alpha-geeky enough to own one at this stage, you're quite probably actually writing programs for it yourself.

"Other" Java-based phones

Many, many mobile phones run Java. A ridiculous number. Java is powerful: you can do a lot with it. So why aren't there more applications in this space?

Simple: user awareness, crippled functionality & UI, and no good, known place for finding applications.

Distribution: Same as Windows Mobile: find & install anything you want. But there is not "goto" place for getting mobile Java applications.

Public Awareness: Horrid

User Understanding: Very Low  


Notes & Links

  1. I am completely ignoring Symbian and a variety of other small platforms. They just don't have enough penetration. But, arguably, they have problems similar to the "other" java-based category: there is a userbase there, but distribution isn't there and public understanding isn't there either.

Monday, January 19, 2009, 12:00 AM

tagged: blackberry, ces2009, google, googleandroid, iphone, mobile, palm, palmpre, platforms, rim, windowsmobile