CES: Device Fragmentation Challenges Developers

Complete Coverage: CES 2011

With almost every consumer electronics manufacturer touting TVs, tablets and smart phones that can access a wide variety of video over the Internet and consumers demanding better apps to access content on these devices, programmers and app developers are facing increasing challenges in developing apps for different devices and incompatible operating systems, noted executives at several sessions being held during this week's Consumer Electronics Show.

Some of the complexities can be seen in recent Nielsen data on the popularity of different mobile smart phones, said Steve Bradbury, vice president, GoTV Networks. That data shows that the major operating systems for mobile devices were in a virtual dead heat, with Apple holding about 28%, RIM's BlackBerry at 26% and Google's Android at 25%,

Android, however seems to be gaining traction, with a 40.8% share of the phones acquired in the last six months, followed by Apple at 26.9% and RIM at 19.2%, Bradbury noted.

Beyond the different operating systems, the introduction of Google's Android phones has complicated matters even further for developers because mobile carriers and manufacturers often customize the phones to differentiate their offerings.  

"Android can be difficult," said Darren Cross, head of business development at Fandango and Comcast Interactive Media. "They don't want to use the exact OS [operating system]. They want something they can leverage besides the hardware. So there are a lot of different factors that can slow down development and make it very difficult."

Over time, however, Alex Barkaloff, executive producer, digital media, at Lionsgate argued that the situation would improve. "We are going through the growing pains," of adapting to all the new devices and platforms, he said. "If you look at fragmentation, a year ago, the cost of publishing to all these platforms was prohibitive. Now it is troublesome but doable."

Still, Barkaloff noted that the costs of developing to a variety of different devices and operating systems could make apps for certain types of content less financially viable. When companies look at developing very poplar apps for things like "weather, and it costs a few hundred thousand dollars to develop it [for all the different platforms and systems], it's a no brainer if you are going to sell millions," Barkaloff said. "But for ourselves, when we look at that equation, [the development costs] may not cross that financial threshold for horror for some of the product we have."

Developers also face tricky decisions in how they develop the apps. Sara DeWitt, vice president, PBS Kids Interactive noted that Apple is very important in the educational market and that Adobe's Flash is the most widely used development tool for kids online content.

Last year, however, after PBS developed a number of Flash-based apps and tools for its expanded Web site, Apple introduced the iPad, which very quickly became an important platform.

But Apple won't support Flash, forcing programmers like PBS to develop separate tools that increase development costs. "I felt like my parents were fighting," she said.