Developer Interest in the iPhone, Android, and Symbian

With several hundred applications now available in the iTunes App store, I decided to consider alternate ways of gauging interest in the platform. Using MarkMail, one can quickly scan thousands of mailing lists and restrict the results to those related to software development. Based on the number of posts to (MarkMail) mailing lists, Linux-based alternatives generate considerably more email chatter than the iPhone:

Staying with the previous metric (posts to mailing lists), there does seem to be growing interest in the iPhone among developers. Since the launch of Android (November 2007), the number of iPhone related messages has grown at a faster rate than those for its competitors:

Other online tools suggest growth in the number of job postings that mention the iPhone. But while a majority of the most recent iPhone related job postings were posted by Apple (making the recent growth in job postings less impressive), Android jobs postings came mostly from outside Google.

For now the launch of the iPhone puts the spotlight on Apple’s App store and platform. The reality is that the mobile landscape is evolving rapidly and with Android yet to launch, the previous numbers will change dramatically over the next months. We will continue to monitor developer interest in the different mobile platforms using a variety of indicators.

Yet another option lurks, one already familiar to web developers and users. At last weekend’s Foo camp, I attended a session on the mobile web and left convinced that with access to the right hooks into mobile devices, web developers can deliver equally cool apps through mobile browsers. Which mobile platform are you most excited about?

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  • Symbian is the best OS for mobiles. Google Android or iPhone OS will never have the same amount of apps like Symbian has.

    Blog with news:

  • A recent site was launched a couple weeks in regards to mobile specific jobs.

    It’s called:

    Think of it as the mobile professionals job site by mobilers, for mobilers.

    I encourage all serious mobile development professionals and companies to utilize it.

  • Andrew Larcombe

    Symbian. Only player in the game. Already has over 10,000 3rd party apps available, and over 65% market share (more in the only 2 markets that are seeing significant growth – India and China).

    Windows mobile a distant second, the others might be more pretty but they’re niche or vapour.

  • Andy

    Your metrics are seriously flawed, because until last weekend iPhone developers were not allowed under the NDA to discuss iPhone development openly.

    Also, higher chatter could just be indicative of poorer documentation, and therefore developers having to seek help from others online.

    I think 10 Million app downloads in a freaking weekend tell you where the USER interest lies at the moment.

  • Correct me if I’m wrong, but the iPhone SDK has been under an NDA until 3 days ago. Isn’t it important to factor this in as well when looking at posts on (public) mailing lists?

  • John Styles

    I know O’Reilly has its own agenda to push, but this seems more than usually bogus. I think this Register article and the comments reflect a more rational viewpoint:

  • the commenters above pointing to market share may have a general point. however i know exactly one person who ever installed an app on a symbian phone. that is even less than i know people who installed apps on their “hacked” iphone.

    yes the iphone is only a new entrant to the market. yes it only has a small market share in many markets, even when looking only at smart phones. however the iphone is more than just the iphone. the way you are now able to easily find and install new apps on the iphone will soon be expected as a feature from other phones as well.

    i think the release of the iphone os x 2.0 software really is a turning point for mobile phone development.


    PS to 10’000 apps on symbian. if that number is correct, it is shockingly low, considering how long symbian has been open for development. i would expect the iphone to reach this number within a year. // however as probably gets clear from the rest of my message, the much more interesting number would be how many apps have ever been installed on symbian phones by the users (that means excluding all apps which are put on the phone for you by your network provider).

  • Andrew

    @moritz: One could argue the reason that not many people download apps to a symbian device is for precisely the reason you discount – they tend to come loaded with applications: – a case in point.

    And the other reason – which links into the ‘just’ 10,000 applications figure – is that just how many things can you do with a phone. How many flickr/twitter/mail clients are people going to want?

    PS. I’ve installed about 20 apps on my symbian device, from FIFA08 to Google Maps. ;)

  • From a user standpoint I’ve been downloading and installing apps on my Nokia n95. Works great and haven’t had any issues. When I was working at Handspring back in 2000-2002 we had similar buzz when we started where developers were going crazy over our platform but the users not so much. The apps that had most success were the ones related to verticals such as medical. On the iPhone job posting surge you’re seeing the same thing for people getting hired for social media/community manager. Everybody is just jumping on the bandwagon looking to keep up with technology.

  • @john styles –

    Wondering what that agenda is. Can you enlighten me?

    We’re big boosters of the iphone, hopeful about the potential of openmoko and android, and generally fond of open systems. Is there more than that?

    (FWIW, if there’s any suggestion of conflict of interest, it must surely be in the direction of the iphone, as we have several bestselling books on it. :-)

  • Don Park

    not “allowed” to talk about iphone development? its restrictions like that which send me running to open source projects. i just received the Neo FreeRunner in the mail. Nice hardware, the software has a long ways to go. I’m looking forward to assisting in development efforts for OpenMoko, and later for Android when those phones arrive.

  • In only 3 months of development time, 800 apps are now available from the iPhone App Store and that number is growing daily. No, that 10,000 apps for Symbian is looking distinctly shabby for an OS that has been around since 1991 in one form or another.

    The fragmented and incompatible UIQ, S60 and MOAP versions of the Symbian OS together with the creaky foundation harking back to the EPOC OS running on the old Psion Organiser just doesn’t hold a candle to the modern object-oriented, BSD Unix-based OS X running on the iPhone. The Symbian IDE also has a terribly steep learning curve.

    No, of the two, Android has a fairer chance of holding a candle to the iPhone and will hopefully be able to keep Apple honest with some decent competition.


  • Ben Lorica

    Georg and Andy,
    The numbers for the mailing lists were through yesterday (7/14) and the July numbers were adjusted to account for the fact that we only had about half a month’s worth of data. We’ll continue to monitor email chatter for all mobile platforms and see if the lifting of the NDA that you both alluded to makes a difference.

    Chatter can be indicative of poor documentation, but also of a larger and more engaged community of developers.

    The point I tried to make is that we shouldn’t think that we are in a “GAME OVER” state. The iPhone and the App store have had a successful launch so the press coverage is well-deserved. The other platforms (including the mobile web guys) will make a push over the next months.

    Bear in mind that the fastest growing market for mobile devices is the developing world – a market where the iPhone doesn’t have much of a presence. There is a lot of innovation happening in the mobile space in the Middle East, Africa, Asia, and the rest of the developing world, some of which will make their way to N. America and Europe.

  • John Styles

    @Tim… no, not really, but being big boosters of ‘free things that you can sell books about’ IS an agenda.
    The O’Reilly website is another website that if you looked at it and didn’t know otherwise you would think
    ‘well, I can see why this Linux thing has 90% market share, and there’s the premium Apple thing with 7.5, but I can’t see why these Microsoft people bother with the pitiful crap no-one uses’.

    None of this really bothers me, except that I do think that the young and gullable probably do end up making bad life choices based on the constant drip-drip-drip that suggests particular technologies are important / popular when actually they’re not, particularly. For example, CVs keep coming across my desk with people who say they are interested in Symbian which clearly is a thing people think they should put on CVs. Which is fine, if they want to spend their time on that, but as a 1st order approximation there is NO market for mobile phone add-on software (and no, a 59c flash-light program does not count :-)).

    The one that I find funniest, though is the Pragmatic Programmers Erlang book, they have certainly done a good job getting that into bookshops even in non-glamorous places in the East Midlands. Erlang book yes, Fortran book no. Frankly I could probably find more Fortran programmers within spitting distance (maybe with a good gargle first) than Erlang programmers in the whole of Britain.

    It would be nice to see some genuine figures for what people program in, but that would cost money to derive and I can’t see who would have a commercial incentive to pay.

  • iPhone. Only player in the game. Already has over 10,000,00 3rd party apps sold.

  • Ben Lorica

    RE: U.S. Online Job Postings
    The thing I found interesting is that the majority of “iPhone jobs” were posted by Apple, Inc.
    While Google only accounted for a small subset of Android job postings.

  • Xanana


    Is it possible for me to use those 2 histograms ( mailing list + jobs postings ) in a presentation ?
    Email me at

  • @Ben:

    “We’ll continue to monitor email chatter for all mobile platforms and see if the lifting of the NDA that you both alluded to makes a difference.”

    Actually, the NDA has *not* been lifted on iPhone development. Only on the Xcode 3.1 toolchain for non-iPhone development. See posts to that effect on the cocoa-dev list for instance.

    I think a better metric for you to use would be the number of applications [non-]commercially available for each of these OSes. Granted that is probably more challenging to calculate for non-iPhone platforms, but it would be quite interesting.

  • LT

    Mailing lists … hmm, that’s one communication channel I have not used in a long while. The HR people loved it, they send all kind of spam across the company. I guess is still a frequently used tool in linux world, and that could be explaining the wining numbers for Android (a closed platform btw, with only the Java application layer exposed to developers).

    As for iPhone, it is hard not to find them anywhere with all this freakish hype around it. Go figure, Steve Wozniak (and maybe Tim O’Reilly too) joins a queue at 3 or 4 a.m. to buy the “new improved iPhone, now also in white” (read: still lame, now also ugly). You must admit that something is wrong in that picture …

    Symbian OS is a proven OS, designed for mobile and currently running on hundreds of phone models. It’s only problem – it does not have a PC version to work for it as a development tool as well as a source of applications ready/easy to port. And of curse it is not studied in the university so a bunch of already polluted minds, that can only think in terms of threads and have no idea what’s the difference between a compiler and an IDE will find it difficult to learn and master.

    As for the numbers of applications, let’s wait and see, how many apps can one do on these cool platforms without background running processes or with bloated Java UI. There’s going to be a lot of touch based tic-tac-toe, I’m sure. And once they’ve done porting the apps from .mac what next? The apps on Symbian are designed for Symbian not over-the-night ports of whatever was available. The numbers are hardly relevant, the quality and innovation is what matters.

    On phones like N95 there are virtually no limits. They’re running the Apache web server on it for God’s sake! Call it useless but you cannot deny the proof of flexibility and openness of the platform. Let’s see a mobile web server running on iPhone and a Java port of it on Android.

    It is sad that reviews like this cannot see behind the hype and slogans like “free open-source platform”, and chose to promote non existing platforms (one has a phone model, the other one none) instead of promoting (without being payed for it) a proven (yet marginalized) platform with hundreds of phones models shipped, at all price ranges and from many phone manufacturers.

  • Ben Lorica

    It is sad that reviews like this cannot see behind the hype and slogans like “free open-source platform”, and chose to promote non existing platforms (one has a phone model, the other one none) instead of promoting (without being payed for it) a proven (yet marginalized) platform with hundreds of phones models shipped, at all price ranges and from many phone manufacturers.

    RE: Hype and Slogans
    Please see my response to Georg and Andy above.


  • While the iPhone seems to be getting a lot of attention lately, I think Android might be the future (if Google can get its act together).

    While the iPhone is very nice eye candy, Apple won’t allow the iPhone OS on other platforms, so it’s a limited market. And even though it is subsidized by carriers, the price is still hefty for a mobile.

    Android is starting to feel a bit like vaporware, since there are no devices and the SDK has been limited to very few developers. Even without a device, developers would like to work with an SDK to get going on their apps, but it’s not to be at the moment. I think Google shot themselves in the foot in announcing Android prematurely. Heh, it’s something Microsoft would do.

    For the moment, Symbian and Windows Mobile are probably safe bets for developers, but the iPhone owners have shown they can jump on the latest platform and download lots of software in a short time.

  • Beau Vrolyk

    An interesting comparison would be to look at this approach for measuring the interest in things like Nintendo and Sony PS. You see, those semi-closed architectures probably don’t generate the email traffic an open-source one does, but when it comes to revenue…. You get my point.

    I think you’re measuring the wrong thing here. How about growth in applications revenue per month, to use the first derivative. Or, we could measure “number of users”.

    Measuring the number of chatty developers is primarily of interest to…. chatty developers.