9/8/2010 12:35 PM
By Suzanne Ginsburg
Less than one year ago, most of my clients were requesting iPhone app design. Today they are still asking for iPhone app design but many also say, “Do you do Android, too?” Most of them plan to start with one platform, see how things go, and then decide whether to invest in the second platform. This roll-out strategy is often tied into engineering costs. Since few developers possess the coding skills required for each platform—Objective C for iPhone and Java for Android—it’s often necessary to hire two development teams. But what about design?
Would I, too, have to do twice the work when designing for the iPhone and Android? And what will happen if the Windows, Palm, and Blackberry app stores take off? Would I have to do five times the work? This dilemma reminded of the “browser wars” back in 1996, when Netscape and Microsoft used to hire evangelists to teach design and coding for their respective browsers. Eventually these proprietary standards were replaced with industry-wide standards but it didn’t happen overnight.
Many say the same will be true of the different smartphone platforms, that they’ll eventually be replaced with something like HTML 5. This could happen at some point, but we’re not there yet. HTML 5 works well for “web apps” and “hybrid apps.” “Web apps” look very much like native apps but they can’t access device data and hardware such as the user’s contacts, the photo library, voice recording, and device movement. In contrast, “hybrid apps,” which provide access to web content through a web viewing area, can access the device hardware and include native user interface elements. Companies like PhoneGap provide tools to simplify cross-platform development for hybrid apps. Using these tools, developers can create apps that are nearly identical across platforms. This may be effective for certain apps, e.g., games, but productivity apps, e.g., email, may want to customize the UI for each platform.
So we’re back to the dilemma: do designers have to do twice the work to create native apps for the iPhone and Android? Based on my recent analysis, I came to this conclusion: the app definition and concept phases would be very similar regardless of platform, but the app refinement and production phases would require adaptions to create full-fledged native apps for each platform. The remainder of this article discusses these differences based on these four phases: Definition, Exploration, Refinement, Production.
Read more here.