The many ages of mobile application development

Have you noticed how often your applications are being updated these days? Especially so in mobile, it seems like the same apps are being updated every 10 days or so at times.

Popular rumour suggests that part of the reason for this may be the way we (as users) are prepared to accept mobile applications with initially limited features on the promise of later extensions.

Where we initially needed a mobile app to “ape” its mobile equivalent with perhaps 20 or so distinguishing features – it now appears acceptable to push initial versions of mobile apps out with just a handful (2 or 3 even) of features and then build upon that foundation with updates.

So what has governed the process of application creation for these devices?

William Coleman, developer product manager lead at Microsoft UK suggests that prior to smartphones becoming the dominant mobile platform, application development was centered around the enterprise, OEMs and mobile operators.

“Mobile apps were commissioned and developed by OEMs and mobile operators as a way for them to differentiate their offerings from rivals. Over the last few years there has been a burst of ‘consumer-facing’ apps due to easier access to the end user as well as robust software development kits (SDKs) to create the apps. The combination of marketplaces, decent SDKs and the growing demand for smartphones has opened up a huge opportunity for developers as they can quickly get an app exposed to millions of people,” said Coleman.

Microsoft’s mobile lead also asserts that developers outside of the mobile industry have joined in here — and so a “new breed of developer” has emerged i.e. the number of amateur, independent and smaller shops has grown rapidly.

“Previously software development was often focused on large projects in the enterprise, but over the past four years there has been a growing focus on creating smaller apps aimed at consumers. Users expect a consistent experience across platforms – whether websites, applications for smartpones and slates/tablets or web apps – and a well thought out journey as well. The way the user interacts with the app is therefore crucial to its success, and so developers need a flair for user experience or should look to work with a designer.”

Coleman says that this whole environment, with the relatively low price points of mobile apps, is leading to consumers devaluing apps and creating a ‘throw away’ app culture. This means that developers need to be at the top of their game and look at providing their customers with relevant updates and new content.

Microsoft’s customers appear to concur.

According to Ian Blackburn, CEO of bbits, “Developing mobile applications is a very different approach to desktop apps – essentially you’re keeping complexity out of the mobile apps and putting it in richer desktop apps or in automated services running in cloud services like Windows Azure. For mobile appswe’ve moved from a very fragmented collection of devices, resolutions and capabilities to devices which are more standardised and predictable.”

This is a fast changing marketplace, this story is far from over.