We are proud to announce the launch of Cross-Platform Tools 2012 – the free, industry-first report on cross-platform developer tools. You can download a free copy here. Cross-platform tools (CPTs) allow developers to create applications for multiple platforms with a small incremental cost. Their impact is both tactical in allowing developers to target more platforms, but also strategic in having the potential to disrupt the Apple/Google duopoly in mobile ecosystems.
Our report is based on a 6-month project, comprising a large-scale online developer survey (nearly 2,500 respondents) combined with meticulous research, vendor interviews and analysis of this complex market of over 100 tools vendors. This report would not have been possible without the support of Marmalade, RunRev, Verizon Developer Communities, Xamarin and the many other companies behind this multi-sponsored project.
Cross-platform tools (CPTs) solve real challenges today; they allow developers to create applications for multiple platforms – usually mobile, but increasingly tablets or TV screens – from almost the same codebase or from within the same design tool. CPTs reduce the cost of platform fragmentation and allow developers to target new platforms at a small incremental cost. More importantly, cross-platform tools allow software companies targeting multiple platforms to reuse developer skills, share codebases, synchronise releases and reduce support costs.
Early leaders in the cross-platform tools space
Our survey revealed that PhoneGap and Sencha lead in terms of mindshare, as they are currently used by 32% and 30% of cross-platform developers, irrespective of their primary tools. Completing the top-5 ranking of our Mindshare Index are Xamarin’s MonoTouch / Mono for Android, Appcelerator and Adobe (Flex). The second half of the top-10 CPTs in terms of current use are Unity, Corona, AppMobi, RunRev and MoSync.
PhoneGap (23%), Xamarin Mono (22%) and Unity (22%) are the tools most developers plan to adopt, irrespective of their primary tool. This market is in constant flux, with developers experimenting and trying out new tools – for example PhoneGap is a stepping stone to cross-platform development as it leads Mindshare, IntentShare, but also comes third in the tools being abandoned. The most widely used CPT accounts for just half of the Mindshare seen in the iOS and Android platforms in our Developer Economics 2011 report.
Cross-platform tools challenge the Apple/Google duopoly
The real impact of cross-platform tools is strategic. Just as the Apple/Google duopoly began to look impenetrable in 2011, a major disruption is flattening the playing field for competitors like Microsoft’s WP7, RIM’s BlackBerry OS and Samsung’s Bada: cross-platform tools are letting developers target multiple platforms with low incremental costs and high levels of code reuse.
2012 marks an inflexion point in the war of mobile ecosystems where the network effects built by Apple and Google are being challenged by an unsuspected new entrant. Cross-platform tools (CPTs) make it easier for example for an iPhone developer to reach Android and Windows Phone 7 users. CPTs dilute network effects by allowing other ecosystems to compete not just in terms of the number of apps listed, but also the availability of top apps, the time-to- market (an app rarely appears at the same time across all platform app stores) and the overall app quality.
Moreover, cross-platform tools reduce barriers to entry and democratise app development, by allowing developers from any language (HTML, Java, C++), any background (hobbyist, pros, agencies, corporates) and any skill level (visual designer to hard-core developer) to build mobile apps. The dozens of CPTs available cater to every developer segment, from creative designers to C++ gurus to hobbyist website enthusiasts to Fortune-500 CIOs. The result could be termed a “democratisation” of software development (in the words of Unity’s Dan Adams), in that mobile platforms may be opened up to all types of developers.
Mergers, financings and the survival of the strongest
We have identified over 100 cross-platform developer tools, in a market that’s booming with new players in 2011. Cross-platform tools have passed the “early adopter” phase, and are now moving into mainstream. For example vendor Sencha counts 1.6 million SDK downloads, Corona apps have reportedly been downloaded 35 million times in 2011, Unity reports 200,000 developers active each month, while Appcelerator boasts 35,000 apps published using the tool and deployed on 40 million devices.
Since 2011, cross-platform tool vendors have raised major VC funding, have been acquired, or achieved major releases. In the CPT space we have tracked 10 acquisitions, and over US$ 200 million in funding rounds. This is a market that takes cash to survive: CPT vendors are subsidizing their entry to market with free products, based on ample VC funding. For example OpenPlug ceased operations as it failed to find a monetisation model, with its key challenge being the conversion of freemium users into paying customers for its support and professional services. CPT vendors without a compelling free product will be washed out by the competition.
Cross-platform tools are taking HTML further than browsers can
Moreover, CPTs are paving the way for HTML5 to become not a platform, but the mainstream development technology for smartphone apps. Cross-platform tools are already triggering an influx of web developers; We found that 60% of CPT users, irrespective of their primary tool, have more than five years experience in web development. Indeed, cross-platform tools have triggered an influx of web developers into mobile.
Android and Windows Phone have been constantly evolving, adding hundreds of new APIs from each major version to the next. Due to the rapid advancement of platforms, tools vendors will always be one or two steps behind in terms of features and access to the complete set of device capabilities. Developers that create demanding applications like 3D games or apps requiring intense user interaction, exceptionally deep user experience, or apps relying on specific features not available on all platforms will need to be developed using the native SDK. Cross-platform tools will therefore be complementary to native SDKs.
Cross platform tools will become “business as usual”
As the platform landscape remains fragmented for the foreseeable future, cross-platform tools will become “business as usual” The future of mobile development is multi-platform – fewer and fewer developers will be able to afford to be confined to a single platform with the limited user reach and monetisation opportunities that implies. The adoption of cross-platform tools is driven by the ability to reach masses of users, which is the primary consideration for most developer segments. Cross-platform tools are indeed the only cost-effective vehicle for these developers to reach a wide mass of users, and we expect CPT usage to become commonplace a result.
Multi-screen and the evolving points of competition
At the onset of 2012, CPT developer selection criteria are heavily skewed towards the breadth of platforms supported by each tool. This picture will change considerably as cross-platform tools vendors advance their products to cover all the major mobile platforms. We expect that by mid-2013, the platforms covered by a CPT will move from a point of differentiation to a point of parity. In that timeframe, we expect the points of competition to move to later stages of the app lifecycle, with vendors offering component marketplaces, end-to-end workflow tools, device adaptation tools, app publishing services and post-download services.
In the sea of 100+ cross-platform tools, vendors are beginning to differentiate by targeting three distinct developer segments: those working on games, enterprise or media apps. Developers in these three segments face distinctly different challenges, work in distinctly different environments and as such need very different CPT solutions. As tool vendors try to survive in the “red ocean” of dozens of cross-platform tools, we expect CPTs to emerge for the financial sector, media publishers and the healthcare/medical sector.
Multi-screen is the next frontier. The battle of the software ecosystems is raging across many screens – mobile, tablet, PC and soon smart TV devices – and multi-screen will be the next frontier for cross-platform tools. Already in our survey, 27% of respondents noted that they also target Windows PC and 24% target Mac desktops with their main cross-platform tool. However, the complexities of cross-platform development in a multi-screen environment are growing exponentially and beyond the simple sharing of the code between multiple platforms. Different screen types have different interaction models, input methods, screen sizes, go-to-market channels and pricing models, while developers working on different screens have use varying tool-chains, development cycles and collaboration processes. With the proliferation of users who own more than one connect screen, the next frontier for cross-platform tools will be multi-screen.
Lessons to be learned
Cross platform tools have previously faced criticism, most notably from Steve Jobs in his infamous open letter “Thoughts on Flash”. The next generation of tools are however rapidly coming to market or maturing with abundant backing from the financial and developer community. The cross-platform tools market is in a state of abundant volatility and we see continual flux, as developers try a tool, and then churn to a different one. This is a market with no clear winners or losers. It’s a market where there is little developer loyalty, and perceptions are still being formed. Now is the time for well-funded vendors with great tools to prove themselves and establish a firm beachhead.
Follow us on Twitter – @visionmobile