What do you want to know about the mobile market?

Pretty soon I’m going to write the opening chapter for the upcoming Smashing Mobile Book. The provisional title is “What’s going on in Mobile?” and I’m going to talk about how the mobile market works, and what web developers need to know to find their way around 10 operating system, 15 device vendors, and 25 browsers.

Before starting, though, I’d like to know which questions you have.

If you’re a web developer interested in mobile but only starting out, or even having a year of experience under your belt, what are the kind of things that frequently baffle you about the mobile market? Which parts don’t you understand? Which mechanisms would you like to see explained?

Note that I’m not going to write about technical issues. No CSS bugs in Android WebKit, JavaScript engines in Samsung bada, or WebGL support on BlackBerry. Instead, I’m going to try to paint a picture of the market as a whole, with the intention that I (and you) can predict what’s going to happen next, which OSs or vendors will survive and which ones will go under.

So. Please ask your question now, so that I can consider it for the chapter. What do you want to know about the mobile market?

This is the blog of Peter-Paul Koch, web developer, consultant, and trainer. You can also follow him on Twitter or Mastodon.
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1 Posted by Michael Mahemoff on 12 July 2012 | Permalink

I know you'll probably cover this based on previous talks, but mainly the international perspective...not just what the hipsters are using in developed metropoli.

Also, it would be useful to get a handle on network quality and monthly bandwidth quotas in different regions.

Looking forward!

2 Posted by Vasilis van Gemert on 12 July 2012 | Permalink

Not sure if you're the right person to answer this question but the thing that clients find really hard to understand is the difference between support and support: what does support mean for an obscure browser on an obscure OS and what does support mean for a state of the art browser on the most advanced OS. And how can you justify and test the difference?

3 Posted by jeremy on 12 July 2012 | Permalink

I second what Michael Mahemoff said. What sorts of functionality is trustworthy no matter what, and what sort of functionality just isn't.

My only addition would be any comments you have on testing, and stating how important it is to have the device on hand (i.e. screw simulators). I think someone like you talking about the importance of having device-in-hand for testing carries a lot of weight.

4 Posted by Kyle Constance on 12 July 2012 | Permalink

This might be out of scope but, energy consumption! Anything on it! Though I'd love to hear about optimization.

5 Posted by BrianMB on 12 July 2012 | Permalink

I would like some expert insight in regards certain issues around app stores vs. the Web.

Based on who and what you know, is it Apple's conscious intention to make Obj-C the "primary" global software platform, and squeeze the Web into a niche? And how are the Googlers working on Android thinking about this relationship?

I ask this in light of certain key platform features gaining slower or non-existant adoption on mobile vs. desktop, whereas a few years ago (before mobile === apps) it was the other way around.

6 Posted by Doug LeMesurier on 13 July 2012 | Permalink

If I have an idea for an app, that's not platform specific, on which platform should I start development? Should I start with iOS and port to others after?

7 Posted by Sergio Lopes on 13 July 2012 | Permalink

Some ideas:

- a classic web vs native debate/opinion

- How do you see mobile webapps in the feature, specially if they will catch up native features. Not hardware APIs like getUserMedia or geolocation that we already know, but features like easy "installation", marketplace for app discovery, monetization, and inter app integration (WebIntents?)

- The future will be more open or more closed? Apple's controlling model will survive another decade?

- And I'm looking forward for the "which OSs or vendors will survive" part :)

8 Posted by sil on 13 July 2012 | Permalink

If a new developer entered the desktop web world today, we would likely say this: your work should support everything. Here is the concept of progressive enhancement in order that you can do that. Look at your own logs to see which browsers your customers use. Test in $list_of_browsers at a minimum. These browsers are pushing the curve; following them is a good indicator of what everyone else will be doing two years from now.

What would that little introductory talk look like on mobile? Does the idea of trying to make something that works everywhere still make sense in a mobile world? Why or why not? Is there a sharper division between "modern" browsers and "old" browsers on mobile, and if there is, is it still important to cater to both, or is it reasonable to just help smartphone users, touchscreen users, whatever?

The important point here is not a recitation of facts; not to say "this manufacturer is good", "this one less so", "these APIs are important", "this technique is reliable". That stuff is necessary, but it's not the point. The point is to explain *why*. The mobile world is full of opinion; of people stating "this thing is the only important thing"; of dismissiveness and pleading and rivalry. Whatever case you make, you should be (I think) spending way more time explaining the reasoning behind your assertions than you should be spending on the assertions themselves. The mobile world and the web world and especially their crossover areas change very, very fast. Facts in a book will be out of date six months after it's published. Predictions of the future are irrelevant once we've arrived. But teach people why you think as you do, teach them how to make the right decisions when the next great technology shift or next small API tweak comes along, and your work stays relevant forever. Give a man a fire and he's warm for a day; set a man on fire and he's warm for life.

9 Posted by Orde Saunders on 13 July 2012 | Permalink

What are the main mobile browsers out there and how do they differ?

There are a number of Webkit browsers (iOS, Android, BB) but they aren't all the same which can be confusing for a beginner. Some kind of introduction to what makes them different and how that affects you as a developer would be useful.

10 Posted by blufive on 13 July 2012 | Permalink

Anything on bandwidth, latency and connectivity, especially non-wifi.

Finding information on browser compatibility is easy (and easy to test if you have devices) but getting accurate information on what latency is like over a 3G link, how robust/reliable bandwidth is, and so on is much, much harder. Maybe for less-than-3G links, too.

This leads to follow-ons, like whether it's better to load stuff immediately, or wait and do it later on demand (and maybe suffer a latency hit as the radio system takes 2 seconds to power up and get a connection). The correct answer is going to depend on the app/user/whatever, but without accurate information about potential costs, we're shooting blind.

The devices/browser may change, but the fact that these things use radio to transmit data is going to be around for a while yet...

11 Posted by Brian LePore on 13 July 2012 | Permalink

Rotation and portrait vs landscape. I'm aware that there are rotation events and what not, but the only time I have ever seen that ever actually used was to fix some issues with scaling on rotation for iOS devices.

And I have never actually seen any stats published as to whether portrait or landscape mode is more popular.

12 Posted by Simon on 13 July 2012 | Permalink

When will mobile market will be

- only smartphones (say, > 90%)
- smartphones resolution & capacity about the desktop ?

In other words, when will mobile and desktop market will almost merge to one ?

13 Posted by Adrian Kirsten on 16 July 2012 | Permalink

Basically all mobile dev and design hovers around the smart phone, the iphone, the *insert android device here*.

This is all well and good in the 1st world, but in Africa those devices comprise a very tiny fraction of devices that are web capable. More importantly, the feature phone access the web way more than desktop computers, so it's all well and good to be able to do fancy things on an iphone, but what about the majority market using feature phone?

14 Posted by Heiko Behrens on 16 July 2012 | Permalink

Talking about the mobile market while skipping technical topics I'd be highly interested in the producer's perspective:

- production time/costs for apps/web solutions
- effort compared across the various platforms+versions
- needed skill set compared to desktop/traditional web
- common pitfalls in mobile projects

I think our industry is still pretty young and to many projects start with faulty assumptions.

15 Posted by Rodney Riley on 16 July 2012 | Permalink

I'd be interested to know the best methods for marketing mobile sites.

- If/how SEO differs for mobiles
- How to deal with mobile ppc
- How to handle mobile email marketing
- Do you need a separate m.site or is if best to deal with it using media queries?

16 Posted by Dawn Budge on 16 July 2012 | Permalink

There's an increasing number of non-ipad tablets emerging, with decreasing prices. What do consumers think of them? Will adoption of such devices increase? Are they attracting customers in place of smartphones or in place of netbook/laptops?

17 Posted by Steve Kansa on 16 July 2012 | Permalink

-Which frameworks are going to last/should we know how to build on? This plays directly in to the native/HTML5 argument.

-A map of where the emerging markets are and what platforms they are using and are likely to use. This seems critical considering that relatively few countries are using iOS and Android still, while Blackberry is still widely used. The obvious issue though is that RIM is fizzling out, so how is that going to impact development for BB devices..?

18 Posted by Ryan on 16 July 2012 | Permalink

I'm curious about how Windows Phone 7 has been faring since some of the new releases. I know it's tiny compared to iOS & Android, but is it growing? App store size & growth rate would be nice stats, too.

19 Posted by John Drinkwater on 18 July 2012 | Permalink

Network latency and performance… and how it’s unlikely to change much in the next decade so cover caching, offline storage, minimising requests etc.