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App developers challenged by number of different devices

Creating apps for 90 percent of all active devices would mean supporting 331 different models, says mobile-app analytics firm Flurry.

Consumers may be thrown by all the different mobile devices on the market. But app developers face an even thornier problem.

Creating software for the mobile landscape has become harder as the sheer number of different devices has grown.

The number of major operating systems might be limited -- Apple's iOS, Google's Android, Microsoft's Windows Phone, BlackBerry. But each OS can be home to dozens or hundreds of different phones and tablets, especially in the Android arena.

Developers who want to write for 90 percent of all active devices would need to support 331 different models, according to a report out today from mobile-app analytics firm Flurry. Those who would settle for 80 percent would still have to support 156 different devices. Even reaching just 50 percent of all active devices means building apps for 18 different models.

A large development company may have the time, money, and staff to devise apps for all those different models. But a small independent developer lacks those resources. So, how do they compete? Are indie developers becoming an "endangered species?" asks Mary Ellen Gordon, author of today's Flurry blog post.

One option is to focus on devices that deliver the most bang for the buck. A little more than 7 percent of all the different device models are in the hands of 80 percent of active users, according to Gordon.

Sounds simple enough. But developers who pick the most-popular phones and tablets still have to worry about specific operating system versions, device screen sizes, and other factors. And if an app doesn't work properly on a less popular device, a developer can suffer negative reviews from unhappy users.

The other option is to focus on the operating systems that offer that bang for the buck. Developers still tend to gravitate toward Apple's iOS first because that's where they feel they pick up the most users. Flurry's data also points to iOS as the most profitable area.

The iPhone and iPad grab around 14 times the number of active users than do devices running other operating systems. Even Apple's major mobile rival doesn't fare that well. Apple devices have more than seven times as many active users as do Samsung devices.

iOS users also tend to spend more time on their devices, according to Flurry, another draw for developers.

"Developers can reach more active devices by developing for a smaller number of device models on iOS and they can also capture the attention of very active users," Gordon said. "People who have iOS devices tend to have more app sessions, creating more opportunities for in-app purchases, advertising revenue, and paid app purchases."

Last year, the number of apps available on Google Play caught up with the number in Apple's App Store -- about 700,000. So developers are targeting more apps for Android. But for now, iOS is still the more lucrative landscape.