Could Device Fragmentation Kill Off App Developers?

Could Device Fragmentation Kill Off Small Developers?It’s a question we’ve heard again and again, and at times wanted to pull our hair out over. How do you conquer device fragmentation?

Device fragmentation a huge issue in the mobile world for businesses of all sizes – but it is especially challenging for small businesses whose internal resources are stretched thin. If you’re a small company you may decide to leave behind Windows, Blackberry and a range of other smaller operating systems, and go after only iOS and Android with your app. Don’t sigh with relief just yet. Even if you’re developing only for iOS and Android – or even if you simply pick one of the two – you’re still facing a massive range of devices that is growing by the week.

Mary Ellen Gordon, of The Flurry Blog, recently pulled some stats to find out if small app developers are becoming an endangered species due to the inconsistencies of connected devices:

“Suppose you’re an app developer who wants to ensure that your app is optimized to function well on 80% of the individual connected devices currently in use (e.g., my iPad, your Windows phone). How many different device models (e.g., Kindle Fire HD 8.9″ Wi-Fi, Galaxy S III) do you think you need to support? 156. Maybe you’re okay with having your app optimized for only 60% of active devices. That still means that you need to support 37 different devices. Even getting to 50% means supporting 18 devices, as shown below. If you’re a large or particularly thorough app developer, reaching 90% of active devices will require supporting 331 different models.”

If you’re a small business app developer, perhaps you shoot low and settle on covering 20% of device models. Gordon says 20% is still a massive headache:

” 20% of device models is still a big number. Using the 80/20 rule, the market for devices might even seem concentrated: just over 7% of device models account for 80% of active users. Still, the large total number of device models in use poses challenges for developers.

It’s obvious that different apps are required for different platforms. Developers can choose to serve only a portion of the app market by developing apps for only a subset of operating systems (and consequently a subset of device models). Even having made that choice, though, adaptations may be required to accommodate different versions of the same platform (e.g., iOS 6.x versus iOS 5.x, forked versions of Android, etc.), smartphones versus tablets and the increasingly wide variety of screen sizes and aspect ratios in which those devices are now available.

Developing apps on the device models that represent the majority of devices currently in active use has become an expensive and time-consuming process. Not optimizing or testing apps on devices being used by even a minority of people exposes developers to negative user experiences and potentially to buying expensive devices to troubleshoot problems as they arise.”

Gordon brings up a really good point; we’re not just talking about device fragmentation here. We’re talking about a variety of mobile carriers, OS fragmentation, variations of screen sizes, and many other factors. Traditional testing methods are no longer sufficient on their own to conquer the challenge of device fragmentation, and all the other inconsistencies in the mobile world.

In-the-wild testing outside of the lab across real devices, carriers, OS’ and locations is the only way to successful combat the unique challenges presented by mobile fragmentation. And this doesn’t only apply to small businesses. Users are quick to abandon any app, no matter what the size of the business and development team behind it, if it doesn’t function well and load almost instantaneously on their device.

Not to mention, having your app available on some device models and not others can be a real problem. Darrell Etherington of TechCrunch highlights that the only way to succeed globally is to go cross-platform, and to do it well:

“The way to achieve truly global appeal, and hopefully convert that into global success, is to go cross-platform, which when factoring in Android often means testing on a host of devices to ensure that you’re not sacrificing user experience in one key area. Because while devices may come in many different flavors, app marketplace reviews are all aggregated to the same place. Anger a group of users associated with one device, and you’re going to poison the well of your review pool, so to speak, not to mention generating negative word-of-mouth buzz.”

To clarify the title of this blog post; ‘no’, device fragmentation will not necessarily kill off app developers (that’s a little too drastic). However, it certainly will continue to make it difficult for dev teams to succeed, and this difficulty will only increase as more devices make their way into the mobile landscape.

Overall, whether you want to develop for several platforms – or only one – you need to test under real world conditions across devices to ensure quality. Developers who neglect testing will struggle to keep up in a world filled with countless devices and high user expectations.

Essential Guide to Mobile App Testing

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