If you’re small company (or a lone developer) it would be wise to follow in the footsteps of giants. Consider Toyota’s mobile strategy. First came the idea: the company wanted to build an app that would let consumers shop among its 16 types of vehicles. They would be able browse more than 130 color options, find nearby dealers, and even take pictures of a vehicle identification number.
Next up, they would need to figure out which platform they would develop (and test) their application on. This is where the story gets interesting. Here’s a few snippets from a recent MacWorld.com piece:
What mobile device should Toyota design for? BlackBerry? That would not have been very kaizen. “If we had developed for RIM devices first and ported to the iPhone, you could have an argument that we were dumbing down our app,” says Michael K. Nelson, interactive communications manager at Toyota who handles Toyota.com. “RIM is not a very sophisticated platform at all.”
Toyota eventually delivered a mobile shopping app tuned for the iPhone, but then followed up with an Android app two weeks later and a BlackBerry app two weeks after that. Then Toyota added the VIN-photo feature to all three platforms. Today, Toyota is working on a tablet app that takes advantage of the iPad 2’s camera.
Companies looking to tap into the power of mobile apps often think they either have to develop a native app for a single platform or a vanilla app for multiple platforms. A native app leverages all of a platforms strengths yet risks the future if the platform falters. A vanilla app can run on and add features across platforms yet usually doesn’t offer a compelling user experience.
In the early days of smartphones, there was only one clear choice for app developer: iPhones. But the emergence of Android devices and all of its OS flavors has cast a harsh light on the issue. A recent Nielsen survey found that Android is the most popular smartphone operating system in the United States, surpassing both iPhone and BlackBerry; mobile app developers can no longer ignore the Android platform.