Decisions, Decisions… Android, iOS, Windows 8 or HTML5?

Article first published as Decisions, Decisions… Android, iOS, Windows 8 or HTML5? on Technorati.

The last month has introduced much new food for thought if you are trying to decide which mobile platform to build on first:

It has definitely been an eventful pre-Holiday Season in mobile.

Which Platform To Build On First?

With all these different metrics and shifts in leadership, which platform do you pick? The market share leader (Android)? The eCommerce leader (iOS)? The one most familiar to enterprise (Windows)? The one most open of all (HTML5)?

If you are Fortune-500 company with a big mobile budget the decision is easy: build on several. If you are smaller, you probably can only build one or two at most (or at least one to start on first). Which one do pick? The answer is actually simple—if you ask two key questions about your intended user base.

Question 1: What is the (Intended) Usage Pattern of Your Customers?

Notice that this question does not ask, “What is the Intended Usage Pattern for Your App?” Why? Because sometimes building an app is the wrong thing to do.

Apps are really fun to build. However, they require a lot from your customers. First they have to find the app. Then they have download and install it. Then remember to open up and use it. That’s a long chain of dependencies required for success.

If your customers use your product regularly—and this use is transactional or highly interactive in nature—then build an app. Open Table is a great example: I book dinner reservations several times a month, on the spur of the moment. It is much easier to do from an app, especially one that needs to interact with other Apps on my device (i.e., calendar, telephone, maps).

However, if your customers only use your services intermittently, don’t waste (their and your) time and effort with an App. Instead, use HTML5 to make your site work really well on mobile. The same is true if your customers only consume content from one source. There is no need to download an App to read a news site. As the Financial Times has shown, HTML5 is much better for this.

Question 2: If You ARE Building an App, What Are Your Customer Demographics?

If an App is the right thing for your customers, then you are really lucky: you get to pick from a great set of mobile platforms. The question now is which platform best suits your needs.

Whereas back end technologies are hidden from customers (allowing the freedom to pick based purely on technical considerations), mobile platforms are virtually “joined to the hips” of your customers. Picking a platform that your customers do not widely use will not provide the results you want—no matter how great the platform and app is.

To avoid this problem, pick the platform that best fits the demographics of your customer base. If you are building for gamers, build on Android (do the same if you are building for users in Emerging Markets). If you are building for doctors, build on Apple (do the same if you are building for high-end commerce). If you are building for internal enterprise IT use, Windows 8 or BlackBerry 10 may be your answer.

There are many ways to find out what platform you customers use most: industry analyst reports, Xyologic stats, or even your website’s Traffic by Operating System in Google Analytics. As long as you pay more attention to these metrics than the latest attention-grabbing mass mobile headlines, you will be using the right technology for your customers.