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This week I had a chance to go the latest MassMobile Software Developers MeetUp and sit with a cross section of Boston’s mobile developer community. Topics centered on new developments around iPhone and iPad, Android, other mobile OS platforms, application development frameworks and finally HTML5 vs. Flash.

It was a group of spirited individuals representing independent developers, development organizations, and folks working for Jumptap, Shawmut Education, Bandwidth.com, and RIM. There was also a nice industry cross-section with people focused developing for mobile location-based services and mapping, healthcare, K-12 and higher ed, as well as more consumer-focused apps. The event was hosted by Localytics, a Cambridge-based mobile analytics firm, that does application-focused analytics, and has been growing and gaining some big clients recently, and held at DogPatch Labs.

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Courtesy of Apple

iPad was first on the agenda and the general feeling in the room was that it was going to be a stellar platform for content consumption, especially websites, magazines, and newspapers (things I wrote about in a previous post). The developers didn’t see iPad as just an e-reader device for full-length books, like the Kindle or nook. What they were excited about was the screen real estate and that they could finally build some really engaging contextual applications for it. Apps that could be free or premium, have in-app advertising that could be monetized, and be more engaging and immersive (see my previous post about the freemium model and immersive application development). Jumptap, which was represented in the room, has announced their support for the iPad SDK.

The discussion went back and forth on the iPad’s lack of multitasking but it didn’t seem to bother most developers. Apple’s very passionate about providing a very clean user interface— on iMac, iPod, iPhone, and now iPad, and multitasking today on a mobile device such as a smartphone or tablet is just not clean. One of the best quotes during this discussion was-

“If you want to multitask, go buy a netbook!”

The discussion moved on to porting existing iPhone apps to iPad and while at first it may seem easy, it was pointed out that there are things and tweaks that developers need to watch for, because they’re working with a much bigger screen.  Most were just getting their hands on the SDK this past week. Those focused on education and healthcare apps were really jazzed about what they could develop for iPad.

The discussion moved on to Android with a presentation on Android Common Pitfalls and Tips by Yoni Samlin, the lead Android developer over at Active Frequency.

I’ll just sum some of his thoughts here-

  • You can’t re-write Object C into Java and push iPhone apps to Android
  • There are more application lifecycle possibilities on Android than on iPhone
  • There is a growing range of screen sizes, processors, and features to think about
  • iPhone forces you to one screen size, and you have many on Android, so pay attention to the SDK
  • If you port an iPhone app to Android, make it look native!
  • You can’t just use the same workflow navigation as your iPhone app and just add Android widgets
  • Not all interactions in iPhone have equivalents in Android  (such as editing a list)
  • Be flexible, take cues from the system, not your iPhone app
  • Don’t trust the Android emulator, test, test, test your app o at least 3 different Android devices before you upload to Android Market
  • There is no committee like at Apple, once you upload to Android Market, it’s there! You are your own QA!

I’ve noticed that Android has the mobile developer community abuzz (on both coasts and in between) because developers finally feel they have something else that appears to be a hit, other than iPhone, that they can focus their resources on this year. Android’s accelerated market share gains since devices debuted (and really exhibited during Q4 2009) along with an explosion of new devices coming (many announced this week in Barcelona at MWC, and at CTIA soon) is feeding into their expectations that this platform will accelerate over the next two years and they have to be on it!

BlackBerry IconThen the discussion moved briefly to BlackBerry and the angst amongst the Boston developers came out. They all thought that while RIM has moved heavily into consumer— more consumer focused designs, more BIS activations vs. BES, RIM has spent little time working with developers and providing tools for consumer apps. RIM’s development focus is still primarily enterprise apps. Many also complained about BlackBerry’s OS update process, how painful the emulator is to use, how RIM is not addressing memory and storage issues, and how they have to test on so many different models before they release. There was also a general feeling that RIM is not promoting the BlackBerry App store, which is dampening their interest in the platform.

windows-7 phoneThere was a brief discussion about Windows Mobile and Microsoft’s move to Phone 7. No one in the room was developing WinMo apps nor had plans to touch Phone 7 until they saw some devices come out. And that means maybe Holiday 2010 according to Microsoft, so this crowd was writing off Microsoft for 2010.

Palm WebOSInterest in Palm’s WebOs among the Boston mobile developers was the same as interest in Phone 7, and developers saw no real device volume out there, and as I pointed out to them, no international installed base either.

Android is still a small market with about 30,000 apps out there currently, and developers first hand are realizing it’s not a money-maker, like on iPhone if you have a hit product. There are few people making over $20,000 on their Android app so far. But open source is drawing developers because its an open window to customization and personalization, unlike over on the iPhone.

The final topic was Flash and HTML, where they were headed, what it meant for mobile, and the media battle between Apple and Adobe, with Google trying to say focus on HTML5 out of one side of their mouth while saying “we’re supporting Flash 10.1 runtime” out the other side.

But that discussion is for another post…

-Randy Giusto

randygiusto@newdigitalcafe.com