Supported platforms for app localization - the end of the oligopolies?

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Before the weekend, some thoughts on business strategies. I am convinced that what will happen over the next few years, is a lot more cross-platform software development than currently common. If you disagree, let me know in the comments below. Today, a lot of apps are being developed for one, maybe two or three, platforms. Especially small enterprises shy away from developing for all possible platforms and instead concentrate on the major ones.

However, some markets are different than others. I like the example of Argentina, where Blackberry market share is still higher than in other countries. Interestingly that is the case because the messenger app is traditionally (pre-What’sApp era) popular with teenagers (BBMessenger’s group chat functionality makes organizing evening activity cheap and easy). So when developing for Argentina, Blackberry OS is still an important platform, while it has almost lost relevance in some other markets completely, where iOS, Android, and to some extent Windows have taken over as the dominant platforms for customer apps.

At LingoHub we want to make sure you’re ready to localize apps for all platforms, at any time, completely independent from the subscription plan you use. We support all major platforms, even more exotic ones and brand new ones (such as the upcoming FirefoxOS or even the Ubuntu Touch for Mobile platforms). Most importantly, it will not matter for the translators whether they work on iPhone localization, Android localization or localizing for other platforms that use a variety of language resource files. Translators on LingoHub concentrate on the content, as we’re taking all the headaches out of the process, such as having to worry about file formats and platform-specific technical issues. It is all in the browser, why worry about the technicalities?

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The major platforms we currently see customers localize for are iOS, Android, Windows (mobile apps), and web apps (Ruby/rails, PHP, python, Java, HTML(5)). Only to some extend regular websites (for example where they have text stored in XML files). We haven’t seen a single project that would warrant a single-platform or few-platform strategy, and in most cases the infrastructure the software is built on, is already multi-platform ready. The most popular environment for collaboration and version management is of course Github. We have also put a lot of energy into supplementary tools that let you use pretty much anything: our REST API, a CLI client, and LingoHub is ready for some custom setups as well, talk to us if you like it complicated or exotic.

So why multi-platform? Analysts see a decline in Microsoft’s market share on the desktop and mobile computer sector, not only due to the transformation to mobile and hybrid platforms, but also a) due to the rise of Apple on traditional devices (laptops and home computers) and b) due to the segmentation of the market and permanent loss of niche markets to Linux or Linux-derivates (such as ChromeOS). In the mobile market, Apple and Google dominance (while altogether growing) is on shaky grounds if you ask me. Microsoft seems to make little headway, and the relaunch of BlackBerry is an indicator that the game is not over yet, the last hands have not yet been dealt. Analysts will keep an eye out for Mozilla and Canonical also, both about to launch open source based mobile operating systems this year, and some smaller Start-ups are also ready to jump onto a market that consists to a considerable percentage of dissatisfied customers (pricing, ecosystem lock-in, privacy concerns). Facebook’s decision to piggy-back on Android could potentially hurt Apple, as a majority of users does not distinguish between UI and OS. What does all that mean: as a developer or product manager, it makes sense to look past the hype and think hard about your platform strategy, it might make sense to invest some extra effort early enough to be ready to roll out products on as many platforms as you can, to spread the risk and catch customers wherever they are, instead of just betting on the dominant players for now.

I will leave you with one last example: major computer games developer Valve has recently started porting their best selling Games to Linux, in what is basically a preparation strategy for their own gaming console to be launched later this year - which will be based on Ubuntu. Windows has been the dominant platform for computer games for decades, but once a major developer backtracks, this could set the stones in motion. Who is to say this won’t happen in other areas as well (Mozilla has upended the browser market once, some say they are poised to do the same for the mobile OS market). Despite the trend of closed ecosystems that seemed to have vindicated the prophets of the open web, there are still plenty of indicators that eventually the market will rectify and turn the IT world into a device and platform agnostic environment, where the software sector will decide who lives and who dies (stop supporting a certain platform and it does along with hardware it was backed by, see Symbian/Nokia). What are your thoughts?