Lacking a large user base to which they can market their apps, developers have little incentive to target these platforms over Android and iOS. Unfortunately, this leads to a kind of feedback loop: Customers who perceive that a platform lacks a rich app catalog will go elsewhere, and developers who perceive that a platform has few users won't create apps for it. As a result, it would be virtually impossible for any newcomer to loosen the grip of the entrenched market leaders.
Who will speak for developers, really?
That leaves us with two powerful OS vendors, Apple and Google, competing fiercely for the attention of consumers and developers alike. It's to the advantage of both to force developers to commit to one platform exclusively; to that end, each offers its own unique tools, SDKs, app stores, and cloud services. Each platform even favors a different programming language; it's possible to write code in C/C++ that will run on both, but it isn't easy.
This creates a good opportunity for outside vendors to develop tools to aid cross-platform development, and a number of companies are already enjoying some success. Unity is one cross-platform toolkit that has gained a strong following among game developers. Adobe has a lot of potential in this area, particularly with its recent acquisition of PhoneGap. Xamarin is developing cross-platform mobile tools based on the open source Mono project. And Oracle has hinted it has not yet given up on positioning its Java and JavaFX technologies as cross-platform mobile solutions.
So far, however, none of these solutions is ideal, and neither Apple nor Google has had much to say about them. Apple, in particular, remains hostile to third-party runtimes, and any apps developed with cross-platform toolkits must still pass through Apple's own tool chain before they can run on iOS.
Competition in the mobile OS market is in the best interests of consumers and independent developers alike. But until it's no longer a hassle to port apps from Android and iOS to other platforms, and vice versa, emerging platforms have little hope of upsetting the dominance of the Big Two.
That's where an organization like the Application Developers Alliance could help. By organizing app developers from all across the mobile OS market, it could act as a unified voice to put pressure on Apple, Google, and others to lower barriers to entry for their platforms. As such, it could become a truly valuable resource.
Will that happen? It seems doubtful. The alliance says it will require membership dues someday, but for this initial phase it plans to get its funding from sponsors. Two candidates mentioned are Google and Research in Motion -- both of which, obviously, have incentive to promote their own platform above all others. As long as it's being underwritten by leading proponents of the status quo, it seems unlikely that the Application Developers Alliance would rock the boat by taking a stand against walled-garden-style mobile platforms.
Will anyone else step up to the plate?
This article, "Mobile developers of the world, unite!," originally appeared at InfoWorld.com. Read more of Neil McAllister's Fatal Exception blog and follow the latest news in programming at InfoWorld.com. For the latest business technology news, follow InfoWorld.com on Twitter.