Will Fragmentation Kill The Indie App Developer Star? Likely Not, But It Will Change How Apps Get Made

In a new report published today by Flurry, the company notes that optimizing apps to hit the majority of mobile devices that are active out there is an increasingly difficult task. In order to reach 80 percent of the active connected devices per Flurry’s data, you’d have to take into account 156 different devices. Even just edging over the 60 percent mark requires that developers account for 37 individual devices. Flurry concludes that this increased fragmentation could mean curtains for the indie app developer.

It’s unlikely the fragmentation issue will clear up or improve. If anything, device manufacturers seem to be introducing more variation into their product lines, not less (PadFone and FonePad, anyone?). Even Apple keeps adding new screen sizes and resolutions that can make development more complicated, even though it doesn’t face as much of a challenge as Android when it comes to making sure users are all on the same version of the mobile OS powering devices.

area_chart_1_V2Still, Flurry’s numbers show that Apple devices far exceed any other manufacturer in terms of active devices, which means that if you’re a small payer looking to start out in an area where you’ll have access to largest audience with the least amount of work, iOS is still the place to go. But increasingly, the way to achieve truly global appeal, and hopefully convert that into global success, is to go cross-platform, which when factoring in Android often means testing on a host of devices to ensure that you’re not sacrificing user experience in one key area. Because while devices may come in many different flavors, app marketplace reviews are all aggregated to the same place. Anger a group of users associated with one device, and you’re going to poison the well of your review pool, so to speak, not to mention generating negative word-of-mouth buzz.

So what’s the upshot? Will indie developers die out as app shops and larger companies with the resources to test across multiple devices gain the advantage in terms of mobile audience reach? Yes and no. There’s still plenty of opportunity for startups and indie devs to make a splash in the app world, and Apple in particular is fond of promoting and highlighting the innovative work and stories of the dedicated few, right alongside its bigger brand partners. Those stories are good marketing, and good for platform health.

The changing nature of app development likely means there’s more opportunity for a middle ground player, one that learns from the last generation of cross-platform app development tools, but incorporates the lessons being learned lately by Facebook, 6Wunderkinder and Brightcove about how native is often better if you’re not housing your app directly on the web. Fragmentation testing as a service is likely to become a new area where companies can emerge to feed the growing needs of developers alongside beta testing tools, API providers and others. And expect companies who can take an indie developer’s idea and make it a cross-platform success to be more in vogue than ever before.