Application development for mobile devices has grown beyond all expectations, with Gartner estimating worldwide mobile phone sales at 314.7 million for the first quarter of 2010. For the whole year, 1.39 billion smartphones were sold, up an incredible 18.5 percent over 2009.
There are two factors contributing to this incredible growth. One is the availability of multiple hardware platforms, including the Android, iPhone, Windows Mobile, and BlackBerry, each one constantly rolling out new features and better usability. The other is the fact that each vendor has created an easy to use and affordable software development kit and app store, making it easy to both create and sell mobile apps. That powerful combination of forces has set the mobile application development market on fire.
Need For Custom Mobile Applications
But application development for mobile devices isn’t just an entrepreneurial venture for people who want to create and sell an app. Mobile apps are custom designed for businesses, to offer more accessibility and more features to their best customers.
Customers are increasingly demanding mobile access to customer-facing applications such as product availability databases, CRM features and customer portals that provide information about their accounts. And beyond that, the company websites are increasingly being re-designed to specifically fit into the smaller form factor of the mobile device.
Multiplatform Mobile Applications
While a proprietary app designed to be used only by a limited audience may work well on a single platform, apps that have a wider audience, such as e-commerce users or the general public, are best developed for multiple hardware platforms. The Android, iPhone, and BlackBerry all have a significant amount of market share, with Windows Mobile coming up quickly. Developing for just one of those four major platforms would seriously limit a company’s target audience.
Mobile Interface Is Different From Desktop
The development itself requires several considerations. Besides considering the target device (and doing cross-platform development accordingly), the interface is of course a major consideration. A mobile interface needs to be very Spartan in nature. The small display will make icons that would be acceptable on a standard display, almost invisible on the smartphone.
Graphics-intensive sites with active code also won’t work well, and keep in mind that the connection is likely to be slower than on a standard laptop-and so a simple display will guarantee faster loading time for the end user. And lastly, application development for mobile devices must take security into account, especially if there is a back-end connection to sensitive client information. Authentication and authorization, incorporating encryption and other techniques such as a VPN connection, will help to avoid exposing that sensitive information.
App development for mobile platforms is made a bit more challenging, because of the sheer volume of mobile apps available. Design considerations call for simpler layouts and lightweight size, but at the same time, it is incumbent on the developer to come up with an app that has enough unique features to attract an audience.