News and Resources

Google planning hybrid Android/Chrome OS tablets

Welcome to DeveloperEconomics’ weekly news roundup. In this edition Google is reportedly planning hybrid devices that run both Android and Chrome, game developers boycott Oculus due to its founder’s support for Donald Trump and Google takes its Daydream SDK out of beta. Read on for the full news rundown.


Google planning hybrid Android/Chrome OS tablets

Google is reportedly planning hybrid devices that run both Android and Chrome, according to 9to5Google. The Andromeda project bakes Chrome OS features into Android and is reportedly being released on a Nexus-branded tablet and a convertible laptop. Rumours suggests the laptop device will launch in Q3 2017.


IBM releases IBM Bluemix Runtime for Swift

IBM has introduced a production-ready Swift runtime on the IBM Cloud. The release allows enterprises to take advantage of the server-side capabilities in Apple’s programming language, for building microservice APIs on its cloud platform. IBM says by unlocking Swift for enterprises it’s “reached another milestone” in its “shared journey with Apple.”


Microsoft announces 400m Windows 10 users

Microsoft says Windows 10 now has over 400 million active users. The last update on user growth was in July, when the OS hit 350, just before it ended its free upgrade period. Microsoft’s original goal was to have one billion devices running Windows 10 by 2018, but the company has since backtracked and is not specifying when it will hit the one billion milestone.


Oracle announces new products for cloud platform

Oracle unveiled 20 new products and services for its Oracle Cloud Platform at the annual OpenWorld conference last week. New products include the cloud-based Oracle Database 12c Release 2, along with an SaaS offering, which combines third party data with real-time analytics for “adaptive” app development. During the announcements, Oracle’s CTO Larry Ellison said Amazon now has “serious competition going forward.”


SoundCloud devs must submit application for API access

SoundCloud has announced changes to its API policy, requiring devs to apply for access. The application form asks devs what categories their app falls under, how it makes money and whether the app plays content from the SoundCloud API. SoundCloud says the changes were made to stop apps from using content without the permission of creators.


Mopub modular ad SDK reduces app sizes

Twitter’s MoPub ad network has announced a new SDK that lets devs cut out the ad formats they don’t use. The modular SDK means devs can save up to 60% on disk space for Android apps and up to 35% for iOS apps, without losing any functionality. MoPub says the space savings will be particularly useful for Asia-Pacific devs, where expensive data plans can impact bigger apps.


Google takes Daydream VR tools out of beta

Google has released a new VR SDK, allowing devs to build VR experiences for Daydream-ready phones and headsets. The Daydream VR SDK 1.0 supports “integrated asynchronous reprojection, high fidelity spatialized audio and interactions using the Daydream controller.” The release also supports native integration in both Unity and Unreal Engine 4.


Facebook rolls-out Profile Expression Kit SDK

Developers can now integrate Facebook’s Profile Expression media into the apps. The Profile Expression Kit lets users turn media – such as Vine videos, Bommerang GIFs and Lollicam stickers – into profile pictures. Facebook says profiles are the second most visited surface on Facebook, allowing Expression Kit apps to generate a lot of exposure.


Onsen UI 2.0 now available

The Onsen UI team has released version 2.0 of its UI framework, which helps developers create native mobile apps with HTML5. While Onsen 1.x was based on Angular JS, the new version has no library dependencies, as well as new Material Design components. The team has also released new and improved documentation to make it easier for devs to get to grips with the framework.


Developers boycott Oculus over Trump-supporting founder

A number of Oculus developers are boycotting the VR platform due to the political views of its founder, Palmer Luckey. According to a Daily Beast report, Luckey funded a pro-Trump activist group, which posted anti-Hilary Clinton ads. Developer Scruta Games said it will “cancel Oculus support” unless Luckey steps down from his position at Oculus.

News and Resources

Angular team announces final release of version 2.0

Welcome to DeveloperEconomics’ weekly news roundup. In this edition, Google announces the release of Android Studio 2.2, Oracle confirms rumours of a Java EE 8 delay and Microsoft has been crowned the new king when it comes to open source contributors. Read on for the full news rundown.

Google app ads beat Facebook with 3 billion installs

Google says its ad products are now responsible for more than three billion app install ads. The announcement follows Facebook’s claim in April that its ads have generated over two billion installs. Google says it’s also experiencing a decline in average ad prices, down 9% year-on-year, due to the continuing growth of YouTube ads.

Microsoft has most open source contributors, says GitHub

Microsoft has beat Facebook to become the organisation with the most open source contributors on GitHub. Microsoft racked-up 16,419 contributors, beating Facebook’s 15,682 and Docker’s 14,059. GitHub’s report also found that JavaScript is the most popular language, Font Awesome is the repository with the most open source contributors and Homebrew is the repository with the most users reviewing code.

Java EE 8 not ready until end of 2017

Oracle says the release of Java EE 8 will be delayed until the end of next year. The delay, which was rumoured for some time, was announced at the JavaOne conference last week, where a new roadmap was proposed. Oracle now plans to release Java EE 8 with basic microservice and cloud capabilities, before releasing EE 9 sometime in 2018 with more features.

Affectiva emotional analytics platform now free for indie devs

Start-up Affectiva is allowing any company that earns less than a million dollars a year to use its SDK and API. The Affectiva platform uses “emotional analytics” to analyse user sentiment via chatbots or surveys. The company also announced a partnership with Giphy, which will see Affectiva encode Giphy gifs for sentiment analysis.

Angular team announces final release of version 2.0

The Angular team has announced the final release version of Angular 2.0. The new version of the JavaScript framework features better support for modern browsers, modular functionality that makes it easier to use third-party libraries, and is recommended for use with Microsoft’s TypeScript. Google also says it will provide devs with more guides to learn Angular 2.0 faster.

Android Studio 2.2 released

Android Studio 2.2 is now available to download. The update brings a significant number of new features, including an improved layout editor, an activity recorder that generates Espresso code for automated testing, and an emulator that can simulate data from different sensors. The new IDE also boasts an APK analyser, GPU debugger and much more.

GitHub announces project management tools and support for formal reviews

GitHub has announced the “biggest update yet” to its platform, bringing project management features to the table. The built in Trello-like project management tool lets users move cards with pull requests and switch cards between columns such as “in progress” and “done.” GitHub also now lets devs formally approve all pull requests and leave review summaries.

Kochava releases free version of app analytics tool

Kochava has launched Free App Analytics, a tool to measure and optimise app ad campaigns. The free tool lets devs optimise campaigns across big networks such as Facebook, Google, Amazon, Twitter and Snapchat. The tool also includes a global index of integrated ad networks. However, features such as scaling are only available in Kochava’s paid Enterprise offering.

Microsoft opens Desktop Bridge for Win32 app conversion

Microsoft’s Destktop Bridge is now ready to use, allowing devs to repackage desktop apps, including Win32 apps, for the Window Store. The Desktop Bridge also converts apps to the Universal Windows Platform, allowing Win32 apps to run on any device running Windows 10. Microsoft says the bridge has already been used by the likes of Evernote, Arduino IDE and doubleTwist to bring full featured apps to Windows Store.

Oracle announces ‘drag and drop’ chatbot platform

Oracle has unveiled a new platform for building and running chatbots. The tool doesn’t require any coding experience – featuring a drag and drop graphical interface – and is positioned an easy-to-use bot builder for enterprises. According to Oracle, its bots will work with all modern messaging platforms, such as Facebook, Slack and Kik.

Google acquires API.AI bot building start-up

Google has bought API.AI, a start-up that provides dev tools for building conversational bots. According to Google, over 60,000 developers are using API.AI’s tools to build conversational experiences for environments such as Slack, Facebook Messenger and Kiki. The terms of the acquisition have not been disclosed.

Business Platforms

Microsoft’s Mobile Opportunity

Microsoft was slow to react to the step change in user experience provided by iOS and Android versus the first generation smartphone platforms. Windows Phone was then late to market and has finished a distant third in the smartphone platform wars. Smartphone adoption was consumer led and in the race to catch up Windows Phone skipped some enterprise friendly features. This has left it out of the running for business adoption too. In tablets, Windows RT was largely rejected by the market and Intel processor based devices running Windows 8 have only managed a weak third place in the market so far. In terms of their share of the mobile OS market, Microsoft is a long way behind Apple and Google. However, as enterprises are increasingly making big investments in mobile, Microsoft’s mobile opportunity is still not lost.


If you can’t beat them, join them

Microsoft’s new CEO, Satya Nadella, has made it clear. The company’s focus is now mobile-first and cloud-first. This includes aggressively rolling out their services across iOS and Android.

In fact they already have more than 100 apps across the two platforms and that number is growing fast. Nadella has not been hesitant to acquire technology where previous strategy has left gaps. The new Outlook apps for iOS and Android is based on the Acompli apps that Microsoft acquired late last year. It will likely be enhanced in the near future with the technology from recently acquired calendar app Sunrise.

In addition to filling out their offering and buying in talent for their competitors platforms, they have also moved to protect their dominance in productivity software. Microsoft Office is free for consumers on mobile platforms. To sweeten the deal for those who pay they’ve added unlimited storage via OneDrive. They then removed reasons to switch by opening up to competing storage solutions such as Dropbox and Box.

Following the old adage that the best form of defense is a good offense, these moves help keep Microsoft’s central position in the daily life of business users whilst starving startups hoping to topple them of revenue. No-one without Microsoft’s scale can compete directly on price whilst offering similar value.

Developers, developers, developers!

The other key to protecting Microsoft’s core enterprise revenues is keeping their technology stack at the heart of enterprise app development. For this to happen, third party enterprise app developers need to stick with .NET and related tools to build apps for iOS and Android. Developer loyalty is where Microsoft has been very strong.

Slashdata’s Developer Economics surveys repeatedly show Windows Phone with massively higher developer mindshare than the installed base of devices merits. That mindshare also continues to grow despite ongoing lack of traction with device sales.

One of the reasons for this developer loyalty is that Microsoft makes top class developer tools. They’ve invested heavily in this area for a very long time. Most developers don’t want to downgrade their tools and productivity in order to target another platform.

While Microsoft didn’t do the groundwork necessary to let developers target iOS and Android with their tools, Xamarin did. Microsoft and Xamarin have a global partnership to enable C# developers (and to some extent Visual Basic developers) to target iOS and Android via Visual Studio. Microsoft open sourced their state-of-the-art Roslyn compiler technology for .NET, presumably mainly so that Xamarin could integrate it. It seems likely that the partnership between the two companies will deepen at some point, probably through investment or acquisition. In any case, it seems to be working.

In the Q1 2015 Developer Economics survey, Xamarin was the second most popular cross-platform tool, behind only PhoneGap/Cordova.

The survey data also shows that C# is clearly on the rise as a language for mobile development.

Microsoft’s Mobile Opportunity: The next best thing

If you can’t own the OS and platform APIs then the next best thing is to own the developer tooling and thus the key relationship with developers. If you want to introduce or drive new features or standards (that don’t require new hardware or OS level support) then it’s the developer relationship you need to own rather than the platform itself.

Arguably a lot of innovation in mobile going forward will be achieved through cloud services. Microsoft would love to own those APIs. This only goes so far in the consumer space. Apple and Google can veto Microsoft’s moves at the public app store interface. However, in the enterprise, where most apps are not distributed via the public app stores, anything goes. This is where Microsoft’s biggest mobile opportunity lies. It’s also where the bulk of the revenue in app development will end up.

If Microsoft can keep a huge pool of developers fed and happy on mobile then they’ll be in a much better position for whatever comes next in computing.

Business Platforms Tools

State of the Developer Nation: The App Economy Consolidates Before the Next Gold Rush

Our 7th Developer Economics survey broke all records again, reaching more than 10,000 app developers from 137 different countries. The full report with the survey findings has just been published and is available for free download!

The view of the app economy that they collectively provide is one of consolidation. Developers are focusing their attention on fewer platforms and app revenues are becoming increasingly concentrated amongst the top publishers. Consolidation in the developers tools sector may also be partly responsible for the decline we see in tools usage. This is also reflected by the platforms, with BlackBerry moving their focus away from consumer smartphones and Microsoft killing their recently acquired Asha and Nokia X platforms to double down on Windows Phone. Fortunately there are several indicators that the next gold rush is just getting started.

Platform Wars in the App Economy

On a global level the platform wars are ending with iOS claiming the majority of the high-end device market and Android winning almost everywhere else. This results in [tweetable]Android leading in developer mindshare at 70% with iOS a clear second with 51% of developers targeting the platform[/tweetable]. However, we’ve been tracking this metric since 2010 and there is a new pattern. [tweetable]Windows Phone was the only platform to gain developer mindshare, rising steadily to 28%[/tweetable], despite failing to gain device market share. Although Android and iOS lost developer mindshare, this was not fewer developers prioritising either platform, rather more developers are now choosing sides. The average number of platforms a developer targets has fallen from 2.9 to 2.2 over the last 12 months, with more than 40% only targeting a single platform.


BlackBerry 10 is rapidly leaking developer mindshare, down to 11%, having failed to gain traction with consumers. Meanwhile, it’s now becoming increasingly clear that [tweetable]the future of HTML5 lies beyond the browser[/tweetable]. Although HTML5 is used by 42% of developers as a technology for app development, only 15% still target mobile browsers as a distribution platform.

A surprisingly high 47% of iOS developers and 42% of Android developers are using something other than the native language on their platforms. While hybrid apps are the most popular non-native option for building Android and iOS apps, they’re only used by 13% of developers. Hybrid apps are HTML5 apps with a native wrapper, typically created by tools such as Cordova.


App Revenues

The majority of app businesses are not sustainable at current revenue levels. [tweetable]50% of iOS developers and 64% of Android developers are below the “app poverty line” of $500 per app per month[/tweetable]. 24% of developers interested in making money earn nothing at all. A further 23% make less than $100 per app per month. The overall app economy, including all revenue sources not just the app stores, is still growing but the revenues are highly concentrated. At the top end of the revenue scale there are just 1.6% of developers with apps earning more than $500k per month, collectively they earn multiples of the other 98.4% combined.


State of the Game Developer Nation

Games dominate app store revenues, yet most games developers struggle. [tweetable]33% of developers make games but 57% of those games make less than $500 per month[/tweetable]. Experience breeds success in the games market. The more games a developer has shipped the more likely they are to be financially successful. However, 70% of games developers have shipped less than 4 titles.

Games is a multi-platform world with the average games developer targeting 3 platforms versus 1.75 platforms for non-games developers. Multi-platform games benefit from cross-platform game development tools with Unity by far the most popular, used by 47% of developers. The next paid tool, Adobe Air, comes a distant second at 15%. Apple and Google’s latest graphics technologies launch a battle for the richest gaming experiences. Third party game development tools like Unity and the Unreal Engine will be key to developers exploiting these capabilities.


Tools of the App Developer Trade

Third-party tools are a critical part of successful app businesses. There’s a strong correlation between tool use and revenues, the more tools a developer uses, the more money they make. We successfully predicted the rise of the Mega-SDK, where consolidation amongst tools companies allows developers to integrate multiple tool categories from a single vendor. Despite this, tool use is declining, partly due to the rapid influx of new mobile developers. These new developers are typically not aware of the tools that are available and thus reduce the average usage levels. 26% of developers that are interested in making money don’t use any third party tools, up from 14% just 12 months ago.


The most popular category of tool is Ad Networks, with 30% of developers using them. However, this is one of the few tool categories that is not associated with higher than average revenues. More experienced and successful developers show a preference for Cloud Computing platforms, such as Amazon Web Services or Microsoft Azure, with 40% of those with 6+ years experience in mobile apps adopting them.

Enterprise Apps – The Next Gold Rush

[tweetable]Enterprise apps are already the safest bet in the app economy and they’re only just getting started[/tweetable]. 67% of mobile app developers primarily target consumers and 11% target professionals directly. The 16% of developers who target enterprises are twice as likely to be earning over $5k per app per month and almost 3 times as likely to earn more than $25k per app per month.


Penetration of enterprises with mobile devices and solutions is already broad but not yet deep. Currently iOS appears to be winning the battle for enterprise adoption and revenues. Yet many developers are focusing on the wrong platform with 10% more enterprise developers targeting Android than iOS. Although enterprise apps have been a historical strength for them, Microsoft and BlackBerry are seeing very weak adoption for their new platforms amongst enterprise developers due to lack of demand from enterprises.

This battle is in the very early stages. Microsoft is re-focussing on their core competence in productivity software while Apple and Google move rapidly to embrace enterprises. Google’s integration of Samsung’s Knox platform into the Android platform is a major step forward. Meanwhile Apple’s new partnership with IBM gives them a strong proposition in all the major vertical markets. These moves will undoubtedly drive greater adoption of mobile technology in enterprises and create countless opportunities for developers to help re-think the way we work.

For more information, download the full Developer Economics Q3 2014: State of the Developer Nation report and check out the war between the European and the Asian app economy.



7 things you need to know before developing a car app

Are you bored with the same old smartphone apps? Why not try developing for cars?


Which tools do you use to develop apps? Have your say in our Developer Economics survey and you could win awesome new gear.

Car makers have started a major offensive to get more apps in their vehicles and open up to outside developers. Their efforts have sparked an interest in the developer community. “A year ago there was very little interest from mobile developers because the automotive market was perceived as being too insignificant,” says Linda Daichendt, Executive Director of the Mobile Technology Association of Michigan, a trade organisation for the mobile/wireless industry located in the heart of automotive country: Detroit. “In late 2013 there was a tremendous surge in vehicle manufacturer outreach to mobile developers with extensive marketing programs. Now there is a much higher level of interest from developers in trying to understand the needs of the automotive companies and how they can profit from working with this market segment. As a result, 2014 is seeing a large number of Connected Vehicle conferences and training programs that are very well attended by the mobile developer community.”

According to Linda, education will be the key to unlock developer engagement and creativity. We thought we’d put in our own 2 cents with our latest report: “Apps for connected cars? Your mileage may vary””. In the free report we describe the state of automotive developer programs in 2014. Here are already 7 things you ought to know before getting into car apps. Many more details inside!

  1. [tweetable]There are 4 ways to develop a car app[/tweetable]. If you want to build an in-vehicle infotainment app, you can run it either on the car’s head unit (the dashboard) or run your app on a mobile device (smartphone or tablet) that is linked with the car. In the latter case, your app’s UI can be mirrored on the dashboard screen using APIs like Mirrorlink or CarPlay. If you want to make an app (in the car, in the cloud or on any device) that uses data from the car, you can use a car maker’s vehicle data API or access the On-Board Diagnostics port (OBD-II) using a bluetooth dongle.VisionMobile-Connected_Car_Apps-02-4_ways_to_develop
  2. [tweetable]There are 3 routes to market for car apps. Two of them are painful. The third is very early stage.[/tweetable]
    • Partner with car makers to get the app pre-installed in the vehicle or featured on a car maker app store. This process takes 2-6 months in the best case. You’ll have to audition with car makers to be allowed to distribute your app, and you’ll be at their mercy for much of the UI design.
    • Distribute apps on major mobile app stores (iOS, Google Play). Still, the approval of car makers is needed to distribute apps using their APIs. You’ll need to sign a distribution contract with the car maker in most cases.
    • Distribute apps on major mobile app stores (iOS, Google Play) while using an OBD-II dongle to get vehicle data. In this case, you need to convince your user to buy and install a hardware dongle. Platforms like Dash and Carvoyant that allow you to access data from an installed base of dongles have only recently launched, and don’t have a large user base yet (in the tens of thousands at most).
  3. [tweetable]The addressable market for car apps is in the lower millions of app installs[/tweetable]. If you were to produce a car app today and push it in the market with all your might, you can expect at most a few million installs across all platforms. It will probably take you several years to get there. Consider the example of Pandora, one of the most popular car apps around. It took them 3 years and over 30 partnership agreements to reach 4 million unique users. Nokia HERE, the navigation platform, claims to be behind 4 out 5 in-car navigation systems. They have sold 10 million licenses in 2013. Compare this to a potential of hundred of millions of installs on iOS or Android for the top apps. (Apps like Gmail or Facebook will probably count billions of installs when adding up all the platforms.)
  4. [tweetable]…but you’ll face much less competition in car apps than on the mobile app stores[/tweetable]. In our Developer Economics report series, we talk about millions of individual mobile app developers on each major platform. There are hundreds of thousands of app publishers on an organisational level. Based on data from analytics firm Priori, we estimate that each distinct app sub-category or use case has on average 1,500 apps competing for the user’s attention.
    In contrast, VisionMobile currently estimates the amount of car app developers at around the ten thousand mark, based on reported figures from car makers that have developer programs. It is still possible to “ride the wave”, i.e. to have an early-mover advantage on car apps just like it existed on smartphones in 2008 or tablets in 2010.
  5. [tweetable]Revenue opportunities for car apps are fuzzy and unproven at best.[/tweetable] Most car makers and car app platform players have not thought through the revenue model question. A common answer is: “the developer can use whatever revenue model he chooses or he is already using”. As we know from mobile apps, it’s not that simple. If you’re relying on an App Store based app for revenue generation, then paid downloads are all but dead in terms of revenue (except navigation apps perhaps), display advertising seems like a no-go and an in-app purchase during normal use seems pretty unlikely, or at least high-friction.
  6. [tweetable]You must design an app that can be operated at 65 mph / 100 km/h without crashing (not your app! your user!).[/tweetable] Safety concerns around driver distraction are absolutely paramount for the car makers you’ll be working with. This is the single biggest difference between car apps and the mobile apps you’re already familiar with. The feeling among car makers is that developers tend to underestimate the importance of new UI paradigms quite a lot – and you’ll be thoroughly scrutinized on it. Expect a learning curve.
    This of course doesn’t apply for car apps that are not used while driving or don’t require user interaction – by no means a niche area! Think insurance, fleet management, car sharing, maintenance and reselling: the list is endless.
  7. [tweetable]Things are moving fast. Your life is about to get easier as platform plays similar to iOS and Android are set in motion[/tweetable]. The introduction of Apple’s CarPlay and Google’s Open Automotive Alliance (and to a lesser extent Windows in the Car) seems to herald a tipping point in the industry. Here are two players that have a deep expertise in solving fragmentation, in building developer communities and in enabling developers to add value. There is now a realistic and acute possibility that these new entrants will sweep away the existing car app platforms with a dominant, over-the-top solution, just as they did in the smartphone world. You can find an overview of all the important platform contenders in our report.

Do you consider car apps part of our future? Have your say in our Developer Economics survey and you could win awesome new gear.

APIs Tools

Accelerating Web Apps – It’s all about politics

On desktop computers web apps have come to dominate many application categories. They are easier to develop and deploy across multiple platforms and it’s possible to iterate much faster. A very large number of developers would like to be able to apply the same technologies and techniques on mobile devices but very few are able to do so successfully, particularly for mass market consumer apps. One of the most important reasons for this is performance. Resolving this issue is much more about politics than technology.

Are mobile web apps doomed to be slow?

Back in July, Drew Crawford wrote a blog post that got a lot of attention essentially claiming that JavaScript performance on mobile devices was simply too slow for serious apps and likely to stay that way for the foreseeable future. It showed, amongst other things, that the browser on the iPhone 4S was around four times slower than the slowest browsers capable of running Google docs real-time collaboration or Google Wave back in 2010. He claimed that ARM processors were not going to get faster rapidly enough to make a difference and JavaScript runtime improvements had stalled and were unlikely to make significant progress. Technically both of these points seem to have been proven wrong already. Apple just announced the iPhone 5S, with a processor twice as fast as the iPhone 5, which was in turn twice as fast as the iPhone 4S – so we have four times more raw CPU performance than we had just two years ago, theoretically enough to support 2010 desktop class browser performance. Also, Mozilla are working on asm.js, which uses a subset of JavaScript compiled ahead of time (AOT) and promises to enable apps to run in the browser at just 1.3 times slower than native performance – almost another four times speed increase versus the current five times slower than native performance of modern JIT compilers.

In addition to being at least partly incorrect this is also looking at a very narrow area of browser performance, a point well made in Sencha’s blog post in response. Across all vendors there are key performance areas where each is 10-40 times behind another. In reality, most of the major performance issues that prevent web apps from being competitive with native apps are related to graphics performance. Mobile device users have come to expect slick animated UIs which are only enabled by GPUs on the devices rather than, say, manipulating the DOM with JavaScript. Fortunately HTML5 and CSS3 provide several opportunities for GPU accelerated graphics with e.g. Canvas, CSS animations and WebGL. So, as mobile hardware and browser software continue to improve over the next couple of years competitive web apps should be just around the corner, shouldn’t they?

Platform wars and politics

With the technologies available or on the very near horizon today, plus improvements to mobile browsers across the major platforms, there’s almost no doubt that we could have competitive web app performance. The problem is that to get there requires platform providers and OEMs to adopt the technologies and implement the improvements – it’s not necessarily in their interests to do so.

Apple and Microsoft want users locked-in while Google wants them logged-in. Mozilla wants the open web everywhere but Google funds them. Opera recently gave up on writing their own browser core and use Google’s instead. That’s over-simplifying but fairly accurate. With other browser vendors attempting to prevent the user tracking that Google’s business model depends on (through default Do Not Track settings or third party cookie blocking) the best way to ensure users stay logged-in is to get them all using Chrome. This means they’re fighting a new browser war for control of the desktop web and taking that to the bulk of the mobile market through Android. In the process they are building several browser technologies to differentiate rather than standardise (e.g. they’ll prefer their own Native Client solution to asm.js).

At the same time Apple wants a great browsing experience but wants developers to build native apps rather than cross-platform web apps. As such they adopt most new web standards quickly but are very slow to include any that might enable high performance web apps – e.g. WebGL has been implemented since iOS 4.2 but only enabled for iAd, not in the browser, also Apple has famously not enabled their JIT compiler in the WebViews used by wrapped web apps* (needed to access native APIs) slowing their JavaScript performance by almost four times. Mozilla’s asm.js seems a very unlikely candidate for Apple to adopt anytime soon. Unless their new CEO makes a major change of strategy, Microsoft seem determined to follow the Apple model, although they might need first class web apps enough to accelerate their standards adoption.

A ray of light?

While there may be several classes of app for which mobile browsers are already good enough, for those hoping to develop all apps with web technologies, the news is not all bad. Although it seems unlikely to be possible to deliver a single solution with great performance everywhere, we might not be far from being able to deliver a good level of performance almost everywhere. Although Apple appear to have some strategic performance limitations, they also have some of the fastest hardware on the market. At the other end of the spectrum good Android browsers are reaching low end smartphones and the Firefox OS, also targeted at low cost devices, has an excellent web app environment. The other good news is that while we have real competition in the mobile market, browsers should keep getting better all round. We’re unlikely to see the return to stagnation of the Internet Explorer dominated early 2000’s.

* Apple do have a good security reason for doing this but they haven’t been in a hurry to resolve it either.