If you could bet on just one mobile platform as an app developer, which would it be?

That was my opening question last week when I moderated a panel discussion hosted by University of Washington Professional & Continuing Education, featuring tech veterans from Cisco, Starbucks, Amazon and PopCap Games who teach and advise some of the UW PCE’s technology and app development certificate programs.

This is practically an age-old debate in the tech world at this point, but it’s a good way of getting a sense for the latest sentiments and prevailing attitudes among app developers. For the record, I purposefully didn’t mention Android or iOS in setting up the question, leaving open the possibility of Windows Phone or BlackBerry as an answer.

Continue reading for the answers from the four panelists (who were speaking on their own behalf, not for their respective companies).

Mike Maas, Glenn Dierkes, James Donaldson and Jon David at the UW Professional & Continuing Education panel on mobile, web and game application development.

Mike Maas, software engineer for Cisco Systems and Android app development instructor:

“I got to teach the class because I had invested in Android after I had taken a run at iOS back in 2008. I joked with somebody, I paid full price. I paid a few grand for the privilege of developing for iOS back in the day. Even today with Android there’s a very low cost of entry.

“The flexibility in devices, some people look at it as fragmentation. I look at it as opportunity — more form factors that you could build apps for. I don’t necessarily like the walled garden, I don’t like a lot of things that come with the Apple ecosystem. I like the nature of Android, and I think, in the long run, it will win. Given the amount of activations happening every month, I think that’s pretty clear.”

Glenn Dierkes, Amazon.com software engineer and instructor in Android, iOS and Mac app development:

“I would bet on both still. I think it depends on what you’re trying to go after. In pure number of devices, I think Android will be the winner, but to generate revenue, I think iOS has an advantage. It’s tied in with the app store, and iTunes and so forth, I think it just makes for a better ecosystem for generating revenue. In terms of the pure number of devices, I think Android already wins that, but as far as getting an app into the hands of users, I think iOS has a bit of an advantage there.”

James Donaldson, Starbucks web developer and instructor in open-source web development:

“The great thing about being in the position I’m in is that the web exists for all of these devices. I don’t even view it so much as a mobile platform. I view it as the web is going to be in a lot of different places. It might be on a screen in your car. It might be on a screen in your refrigerator. It might be on a kiosk in a mall. I think in terms of the browser, and the browser exists on all of these devices.”

PopCap's Jon David, Bejeweled franchise director

Jon David, PopCap franchise director for Bejeweled and advisory board member for mobile and web game development:

“iOS, but Android is not something to be ignored by any means. The installed base is growing at such a huge clip that you definitely have to keep an eye on it. But the thing that I’d say, specifically in the games space — this might come as a surprise to some of you, I don’t know — is that the days of making a game, finishing it up, putting a price tag on it, let’s call it two bucks and putting it up in an app store and never working on it again, are over. Games, specifically on the Android platform, do not make a lot of money through the packaged product model. It’s moving squarely to games as services.

“We have this game called Bejeweled Blitz. It does phenomenally well for us. It’s a complete game as a service. Every single day we have a team of people in an office in Belltown that are watching everything going on in the Bejeweled Blitz ecosystem. How are our players responding, what’s our feedback. What are our comments and our ratings in the app store. It is hard enough with the one ecosystem to stay on top of the different generations of iPhones. We’re taking a hard look at Android. But one of our big concerns is, it is so fragmented that to maintain that game as a service, what are we going to do when one particular model of one particular phone, the players aren’t having a good experience? The fragmentation makes it very hard to run an effective game as a service and do the right thing by your players. So, for now, iOS.”

We spent the next half-hour talking about all sorts of other topics, including tips for job candidates, the role of social technologies, HTML5 and Javascript vs. proprietary languages, etc. I’ll post the full video when it’s available.

Editor’s Note: The UW Professional & Continuing Education Program is a GeekWire advertiser. Casino image via BigStock.

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  • rattyuk

    No contest.

  • ChuksOnwuneme

    Don’t “bet” on any, do both. Neither platforms is going anywhere anytime soon, and devs should capitalize on both ecosystems. That’s why I’m an advocate for HTML5/hybrid development –kill ’em both with one stone ….actually get a little extra by throwing in WP7, Symbian and BB into the mix with the same code-base. My picks for mobile HTML5/JS frameworks for are:

    -Sencha Touch
    -Titanium Appcelerator
    -Phonegap (+ JQueryMobile)

    With time, the lines between “native” and “hybrid” will be blurred so much that it wouldn’t matter what platform the underlining app is built on.

    • Matt Wass de Czege

      I agree with you that HYML5 is the way to go. Mike points out below that it is not yet there today, but it will be. I remember when everyone said that IP could not handle business quality voice and video due to lack of QOS in the standard. Well that is a debate of the past.

      • ChuksOnwuneme

        While I remain an advocate for HTML5, it is surely not for everything at this point, though. It all depends on the particular project being worked on. Good discussions. I’d like to see where the discussion is in 5 years’ time.

        Oh yes –I remember the early days of VoIP, as I did some work in that area.

  • Mark strait

    These guys don’t represent the average developer and they really don’t understand the market. The customers will decide. Its not about devices, its about the number of apps you sell.

  • Odog4ever

    If its not a game bet on the web, biggest user base of them all…

  • Mike Maas

    It was a loaded question, for sure… and this is just a snippet of what was discussed. I think all of us on the panel felt like the web is where you should place your bet – but we were asked to make a call on the native platforms. Additionally, as much as we want it, HTML5 technologies are just not fully cooked enough to support rich mobile experiences that use native functionality. Try telling a company to wait for the maturity of WebRTC, WebGL, or full sensor support in HTML5 that they need to develop their app or game. Companies have to ship apps/games/products now and abstraction platforms are fine but they limit you to the most common features across all platforms.

    • http://geekwire.com Todd Bishop

      Thanks, Mike. Agreed, I create a bit of an artificial constraint by framing the question the way I did, with the goal of getting insights into the pros and cons of the various mobile platform. You all did a great job of putting things in perspective. Thanks for a great discussion — I’ll be sure to post the full video when it’s available.

  • APai

    consumers need choice, so I’m hoping that every platform gets its due respect. however, every platform should ensure that writing for it should be made easy. I hope that closed platforms open up more or die a natural death. consumers should be able to port their data from one platform to another with ease – that IS the promise of the cloud.

  • http://www.mobileapptelligence.com/ Vidya Provab

    Android is outpacing iOS globally, garnering loyalty by 42 percent of developer respondents as opposed to 32 percent going with iOS. http://www.mobileapptelligence.com/android-app-development-company.html

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