Another point on “The Church of Market Share”

If you haven’t read Gruber’s post titled The Church of Market Share you should now before I continue.

There.  Finished? Good.

I agree with everything that Gruber wrote in this piece.  In fact, I’d like to dig a little into history to reinforce what he said.

Consider mobile app development in the early 2000′s.  The leading platform in terms of market share was Symbian (Nokia mostly, although some Ericsson and later Sony/Ericsson).  They were selling like hotcakes. In fact, the only competition that they had were a brick-sized and shaped phone from Qualcomm running Palm OS, another Palm OS phone from Samsung, the phone add-in from Handspring (again, Palm OS), and maybe the earliest Windows Mobile phones from a couple of vendors. Again, none of these could hold a candle to Symbian in terms of market share. In fact, the only competition really was between Symbian phones and non-phone Personal Digital Assistants (PDA’s), such as the Palm V, Handspring Visor and the Compaq iPaq, but even there, the device sales numbers were roundoff error compared to Symbian phones.  (Blackberry was just starting to take off so they don’t factor into this.)

So where did the developers migrate to?  Palm OS.  Pocket PC.  We weren’t against Symbian development, but the few hardy souls that ventured into those waters were very disappointed with respect to the number of sales.

Now realize that this was a pre-App Store environment.  Developers would either try to distribute their apps themselves, but, more often, we would use Electronic Sales Distributors (ESD’s) like PalmGear and Handango.  Users would have to know about these sites so that they could go and buy apps.  Buying apps was also a painful process, with an email going to the developer from the ESD and the developer sending the customer an activation code that they would have to enter by hand onto the screen.  Sometimes the email from the ESD to the developer got lost; sometimes the email from the developer to the customer; sometimes the customer had trouble getting the code in (if they could find the registration screen in the first place).

Getting back on point, most developers were building for Palm (especially for consumer-oriented apps) and Pocket PC/Windows CE (mostly for enterprise).  Some were making good money, but most were just scratching out a living.  Periodically, some new developer would ask one of us if it was worth developing for Symbian, but it never was a long discussion.

(I’m sure there were a few developers who had successful Symbian applications, but it wasn’t anywhere near the numbers that Palm and Pocket PC/Windows CE developers were seeing.)

Food for thought when people start talking about market share.

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