Fractured Mobile Market Poses Challenges for Merchants, Developers

With the growth in popularity of several different mobile devices using the Android OS, the mobile environment is becoming increasingly diverse.

AdMob, the mobile advertising network that tracks monthly usage statistics on mobile devices, reported that in September 2009, the HTC Dream and HTC Magic represented 96 percent of the traffic in their network. By March 2010, 11 devices made up the same percentage.

According to the Mobile Metrics Report, the top three Android devices were the Motorola Droid, HTC Dream and Motorola CLIQ. These also happen to be the only top Android devices with keyboards, which might explain their popularity with Android users.

To a lesser extent, the growth in popularity of the iPod touch and the release of iPad have been adding to the diversity of the iPhone OS, as well.

Many people were quick to shell out the $500 for the iPad before it hit stores. Apple stated that it sold 300,000 of the devices by its release date of April 3. Its estimate jumped to 450,000 by April 8. Now advertising research firm Chitika Labs estimates that nearly 2 million have been sold. By April 22, Wired reported that 26 percent of its site traffic came from iPad users.

Many Resolutions, Screen Sizes

This increasing diversity represents a challenge to developers who must cope with the different screen sizes, resolutions, memory and keyboard capabilities of all these devices. It also makes a difference for merchants.

For example, a merchant who gets a lot of mobile traffic might want to consider whether its visitors have keyboards. Mobile users without them might give up on filling out long order forms using hunt-and-peck. An iPad user, on the other hand, wouldn’t have this problem.

Apps Are an Option, Too

Many of the apps available for the Android work fairly well across all devices, at least according to many of the comments I saw on Android forums. The hardest part of optimizing for different devices, for mobile websites and apps, is adjusting to the different hardware on each device. These include screen size, resolution, trackball, keyboard, camera and GPS.

This is true for the iPhone OS as well. There are many useful and interesting apps available in the App Store that are only functional on the iPhone because of its 3G capabilities, camera and GPS. The iPad adds a new dimension with a large screen, QWERTY keyboard and reliance on WiFi for Internet connections. Merchants who are considering an iPhone and/or iPad app have those options to consider.

So it seems that, while there is a huge need for standardization, mobile development is becoming more varied, depending on the device of preference. Although W3C released its Mobile Web Best Practices in 2008 to try to lay down some rules, these rules are really more like guidelines.

Mobile Platforms, Number of Users

For now, merchants, and their developers, should presumably decide which mobile devices to focus on, and optimize their ecommerce sites for them. Merchants that choose to optimize their sites for mobile should focus their efforts on optimizing for iPhone (including iPod touch), the HTC Dream and Magic and the Motorola Droid. Merchants who plan to develop apps will want to continue developing for the App Store first, then the Android Market.

Brendan Gibbons
Brendan Gibbons
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