Why don’t you support my OS?

With so many great mobile operating systems out there, we often get asked “Why don’t you support my OS?” Like my previous post about upgrades, I hope this one will help shed some light on the challenges of supporting an operating system!

We get requests for Mac, Blackberry, Symbian, and Linux versions of our software every day. These are all great operating systems and they have a lot to offer. In fact we’d love to offer our products on all of these OS’s. Unfortunately, there are some big challenges!

New Development Environment
That’s a fancy way of saying that we’d have to write the program from scratch! Each OS requires us to write programs with a different set of tools. What is more, for some OS’s you need to write different versions for each variant of the core OS. Our programmers can certainly pull this off, but it means a major investment in time and resources.

New Devices
As soon as we venture into a new OS we have to outfit ourselves with the devices to test on AND for our support staff. Emulators (programs that will fake the OS on your Windows PC so you can run software) exist but unfortunately these are not 100% reliable. To release software that really works well you have to test on a real device.

More Upgrades
Writing updates and upgrades requires more and more time with each OS you add. So when we add a new feature to one device, we have to add it to the other devices, and on each device the feature has to be added in a different way since each device has a different development environment. Suddenly, the time between upgrades gets even longer!

Lots More Software Testing
We test like crazy here. We admit, we don’t catch every single bug, but we like to think we do a great job of testing. For instance, with every major release we individually check every field on every card type in eWallet to verify that it accepts and retains data. We do this on every major device and OS variation of every OS we support. For instance, on Pocket PC we need to check: 2003 low res devices (portrait mode), 2003 low res devices (landscape mode), 2003 high res devices (portrait mode), 2003 high res devices (landscape mode), 5.0 high res portrait, 5.0 high res landscape, 5.0 square screen. This is just a tiny example but I think it shows the complexity of fully testing a piece of software.

Expanded Support
Our support staff has to be up to date on every device we support. They need to know how they work, how the software works on them, and which device runs which OS.

Expanded Sales
All of our resellers need to get the additional versions, marketing materials have to get prepared, and more.

I haven’t hit every issue here but I’m willing to bet you get the idea at this point.

Boo hoo! It’s hard. So what?
Good question, and this brings us to the main issue. We can support other operating systems and devices. We’ve got some very talented people here and we could definitely pull it off.

The problem is that we, like almost every other company around, have limited resources (people, time, money). Supporting an additional OS means time that we can’t spend working on the OS’s we already support. It means time away from new software projects. It means thinning our focus.

So in the meantime, we will continue focusing on creating the very best products we can for Windows, Windows Mobile, and Palm OS. We may still offer support for other OS’s in the future, but for now we want to stay focused so that we can offer excellent products that meet our own high standards.

6 thoughts on “Why don’t you support my OS?

  1. zygfryd

    The eWallet is perfectly working under Linux, using wine so you might say: “version for Linux is not a big issue anymore”
    of course there is no automatic synchronization with PPC but something for something: 1 is more than 0 ;-)

    take care – good soft

  2. Adam

    I fully understand your point, but surly symbian must be a safe bet, why not look at outsourcing to third parties.

  3. Marc Post author

    Unfortunately market size doesn’t always result in a profitable venture. First off, people with Symbian devices buy very little actual software for their phones. Ringtones, sure, but not information management tools. So while Symbian looks great on a purely ‘distribution size’ level, the reality is that it doesn’t offer as big of a market as it seems.

    As for outsourcing, software needs maintenance. This means long term outsourcing expenses for every change that is required. In addition, it requires support. This means implementing the infrastructure to support the device. Then there is the question of testing. They build it but we test it. Adding a new platform exponentially increases our test cases.

    So it isn’t that we don’t see the possibility for profit or that we don’t hope to expand to new markets in the future. The question comes down to this…to expand into a new market do we want to:

    a) Pull people away from other projects to support the new market

    b) Redirect finances towards a new market instead of using them to improve the product and support for our existing market

    c) Obtain capital (and all the entanglements that go along with it) to allow expansion into a new market with no cost to existing products/markets

    d) Go for a quantity over quality approach

    Any of these or a combination of them could work, but we would have to make at least one of these decisions and at this point in our company, all of them involve sacrifices.

    So…we aren’t abandoning the idea but we just don’t have a way to make it happen that we are comfortable with.

  4. L. Ridley

    Okay, as the current owner of a blackbery 8700, and past owner of an IPAQ, smart phone, windows ce phone, etc, I had to laugh at your statement from 11/20/06:

    First off, people with Symbian devices buy very little actual software for their phones.

    Helloooo! Maybe because there’s hardly any software worth buying. More and more folks are switching over to blackberrys for their ease of use, reliability and great email capabilities. However as one who has used the others and been unhappy with the phones/platform (but happy with the available software!), I have to say that the quantity and quality of softward available for blackberry’s is sadly lacking. Reminds me of early Mac days and why I finally had to switch to the PC.

    I’m not sure where you get your market research, but I would suggest that there’s a bit of chicken and egg going on here.

    I do understand that to support another platform requires a capital commitment and if Ilium cannot or does not want to do so, that’s a choice.

    Sure do miss ewallet and would love to have listpro on my blackberry though!

  5. Ceesie

    I understand the challenges you have to support multiple OS. However, does this mean that all eWallet users (like me for many years) have to find another solution? It would be nice if you could make a clear statement about your intention. If you stay on MS platforms only, we better move on. However, I guess it would be the wrong choice looking at how the global mobile business (and OS shares) is shaping up.

  6. Marc Post author

    Ridley:
    Actually it is something more than “there isn’t software so people don’t buy it”. I see two problems in getting software to Symbian users. First, people don’t know they can install software (ringtones and such, sure, but software, no). The only way to really change this is a major push from the OEMs/Carriers but frankly, there isn’t enough money in it for them (they think) so they’d rather sell 50 more ring tones than a good list app. Second, the reality is that the “typical” symbian user just doesn’t care. They are perfectly happy with contacts, calendar, email, and ringtones. If they can surf the web, even better. But a really good password manager? The average Symbian user just isn’t interested.

    As for Blackberry I’m pretty sure we talked about locked down devices. We have a LOT of friends in this market and many have tried BB. There is a reason though, that there are SO many great PPC developers and so few of them have BB apps. It isn’t that they can’t do it…it’s often a question of “can we sell enough to make it worth it.” And like Symbian, for most BB users, it already does everything they want. They just aren’t buying 3rd party software titles.

    Ceesie:
    I really wish we could tell you exactly what we’re doing or planning. A couple issues here. First things change…a lot. What looks like the best new thing today is forgotten tomorrow. We need to remain extremely flexible to stay alive (it’s part of why we are alive and so many others are gone) and we hate to say “Yep! We’ll do it!” and then go back on our word.

    Secondly, secrecy is extremely valuable. We hate to see someone leave our product if we’re about to release something that would change their mind, but the cost of having a competitor beat us to the punch on something is far greater. As a company that likes to always put the customer ahead of EVERYTHING else this need really galls us, but in the 10 years that we’ve been doing this we’ve seen what happens if we telegraph our plans…it’s ugly.

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