Thoughts on mobile development - Symbian, Blackberry, Android, J2ME and iPhone

Don’t ignore regionality when selecting target mobile OS

By Aaron Davidson, in , posted: 24-Mar-2010 16:09

Back in December I blogged about "Which mobile OS to develop your killer app for?" and went through the various factors that we typically consider with a client.  One of the factors was "What is their target geographic and which devices are prevalent in the geographic?".

I think people too often overlook the importance of regionality in their rush to pick whatever their favourite OS is as the target platform.  The importance of regionality was driven home to me once again in some recent Admob stats.

I think this graph (courtesy of Admob) illustrates my point perfectly:

Mobile OS share for all regions

If you are developing an application for Oceania, naturally you would target iPhone OS and potentially Symbian OS.  There would appear to be next to no business case for developing a WebOS app.  Correspondingly, if you are developing an application targeting Africa, naturally you would naturally target Symbian OS and potentially iPhone OS.  You definitely would not develop a Symbian app targeted at North America but you might develop iPhone and Android versions.

What this data tells us is that if your application is going to marketed in a specific region then the huge variations in market share between regions make using "global" statistics dangerous.  If you are considering a regionally targeted application then you need to use regionally specific data when making your decision.

The obvious rider to this is that if there are such wide variations regionally, are their subregional variations?  The answer of course is Yes!  Admob also supplied data for South East Asia:

Breakdown of OS share within SE Asia

While Symbian OS has a 69% marketshare in Asia as a whole this increases to 77% in SE Asia.  Similarly, while iPhone OS has a 27% marketshare in Asia as a whole this falls to just 19% in SE Asia.  In this particular case the data probably would not alter your decision which would be that if you are developing an app that targets SE Asia you should definitely develop a Symbian app and consider an iPhone application.  The data does however illustrate that its not always a good idea to even use regional or subregional data.  If you are targeting just a single country then you should use data for just that country as part of your decision.  Match your data to your target geography.

So regionality is a key consideration when considering which mobile OS to choose.  Having read this post however don't jump to the conclusion that its the only thing you need to consider!  Remember, as my original December post pointed out, regionality is just one of the things that you should consider before making a final decision.

One last rider, when looking at any data, regional or otherwise, do take the time to understand how it was compiled.  I have been rather cavalier in referring to Admob's data because to talk about how it was derived in the middle of things would have just distracted from the whole point I was trying to make.  In Admob's case, their data is an OK but not great proxy for the actual mobile OS marketshare as it is compiled from "ad requests we receive from our network of more than 15,000 mobile Web sites and iPhone and Android applications".  So of course Admob's data will be skewed in accordance with its collection methodology, self selection bias etc.  Admob discuss their methodology here.

I can just hear people now, "Perhaps it would just be easier to choose my favourite OS"!

Other related posts:
Windows Phone 7 looking good. Demo looking better.
Nokia Developer Day, Sydney 2 March 2010
Which mobile platforms do developers love?

Comment by roamingsim, on 25-Mar-2010 14:24

It's a good point you raise about regional differences in the statistics.  All too often mobile market share is thrown around and debated, and more often that not its North American statistics or Global, which differ enough without taking into account other regions.

Another thought to consider though when looking at the sample data you've provided is that it is all relative rather than absolute. So while only 27% of requests come from Android devices in North America, and by inference 27% of devices are Android devices, that 27% could be a much larger actual number of devices than in other markets.  So while it may be simplest to say it's best to target the largest market share, a small percentage of a vary large number may still be a worthwhile market.  For example it wouldn't surprise me if that 27% of android requests came from a much larger number of devices than the 92% of iphone requests in Oceania.

Also when considering the target market for an application, the number of other competing applications available may change the view.  So while 92% to iphone is clearly the largest market share in Oceania, how many other apps that do the same thing are available already for iphone?  This could point to a better application take up on Symbian in Oceania.  ie it may be better to have a monopoly in a small market than be one of many in a larger market (or the opposite could be true - hence the need for actual numbers rather than relative weighting).

My apologies if these factors were covered in your earlier blog - I tried to check this but the link didn't seem to work for me.


Author's note by ald, on 26-Mar-2010 11:49

Thanks Steve, really great input.  Agree entirely, there's a definitely a lot of factors people need to take into account.

My apologies about the link to my earlier article - I've just started using a new blogging client and thought I'd use a flash harry autolink to an earlier post feature.  Clearly it doesn't work as well as I'd hoped!  Have manually updated the links so they should work for your now.

Comment by timmyh, on 30-Mar-2010 06:28

Great post. Also worth noting that users of iPhone and Android OS's use many times more web services than other OS's, up to 10 times more. So the stats here from AdMob reflect usage by those OS's rather than installed base. Heavy users are certainly more likely to purchase your app but there might not be quite as many of them as you think.

Author's note by ald, on 30-Mar-2010 23:34

Agree completely Tim.  Glanced over that though not as effectively as you in my penultimate para.

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Aaron Davidson
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Co-founder and CEO of SimWorks - New Zealands leading developer of mobile applications.

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