Developer Year in Review: Mobile

Our look back at 2010 starts with the year in mobile.

With just eight more shopping days until Festivus, it’s time to look back on the year that was. Here at the Week in Review, I’ll be breaking it down into three segments, starting this week with the year in mobile. Upcoming posts will look at programming languages and operating systems.

All your smartphones are belong to Google and Apple

Microsoft and RIM pushed out new releases of their mobile operating systems and new handsets to run them. But in terms of market impact, their efforts were like filling the Grand Canyon with a garden hose. This year belonged jointly to Apple and Google, or iOS and Android if you want.

Apple succeeded in doing what companies have been failing to do for years: put a popular and usable tablet computer into the hands of consumers. The iPad, which garnered quizzical looks when first launched, is now on course to take a major slice out of the netbook and laptop market. It’s also spawned a gaggle of me-too tablet offerings running Android (and now, reportedly, Windows). Apple also finally made iOS devices truly usable with iOS 4.2, which brought multitasking to the masses (where “the masses” are defined as people with an iPhone 3GS or better …)

Meanwhile, Google’s Android ate up the market, although the lack of a single identifiable branding strategy tends to make all those Android handsets hard to spot in the wild. I can name all the iOS devices, but I sure as heck can’t name all the devices running Android. If you believe that many vendors make for better diversity, this is a good thing. If you believe that many vendors make for a porting nightmare, your perspective on Android is a little different.

I sue you, you sue me, we all pay a legal fee

The computer industry in general suffered from a spate of intellectual property litigation this year, but boy oh boy, did the mobile space get it in spades. At this point, the only effective way you could keep track of mobile lawsuits is with a heat map (and Randall Munroe over at xkcd is probably working on one …)

The Supreme Court’s clear-as-mud decision in the Bilski patent case left everyone confused about what you can and can’t sue over. For the moment, the only people benefiting from this orgy of lawsuits are the lawyers on retainer.

The year of the app store

Apple’s App Store has been hugely successful at attracting independent (and large) mobile developers. Not surprisingly, everyone and their sister has copied Apple’s model. Android put up an app store without Apple’s restrictive gatekeeping, and Blackberry put up a store that is (reportedly) harder to get into than Apple’s.

Apple also (finally) clarified the criteria for getting into their store. And in a sign that pigs will soon become airborne, Apple approved apps for Google Voice and Google Latitude.

In a way, the App Store model has finally legitimized the freeware/shareware model. It’s also offered small and independent developers a way to get visibility and a sales channel for their products. With the App Store model moving to desktop software next year (as Apple introduces the Mac App Store), it will be interesting to see if Microsoft follows suit.

That’s it for this week. I’ll take a look at the year in programming languages in the next edition. Suggestions are always welcome, so please send tips or news here.

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