Adult Mobile Market Presents Challenges, Opportunities

Stephen Yagielowicz

LOS ANGELES — For adult content marketers, today’s mobile arena promises significant profit opportunities, as well as some hidden challenges for app developers.

While mobile technology has evolved over the years and continues to adapt to new consumer demands, the current market has settled into a few major camps, including the two dominant Smartphone platforms; Apple’s iOS and the Open Source Android, which is championed by search giant Google.

Apple’s strict control over device feature access and distribution channels, such as its Draconian App Store adult content restriction policies, have made Android the preferred platform for many adult app developers — but an interesting phenomenon that is known as “Android fragmentation” may be complicating the development cycle.

Put simply, it seems that many Android users are not keeping their OS up-to-date, with reports from the field suggesting that the active installed base includes all previous releases — a situation that if echoed in the PC world, would have users still running on old Windows 3.1 and ME installs…

A big part of the problem may be in Android’s open nature.

Apple users, typically relying on the company’s official iTunes distribution channel, enjoy easy iOS updates: plug your iPhone or other device into a USB port, iTunes opens, and updates the phone while downloading your latest apps and music purchases.

Android users, making use of “alternative” media distribution outlets, may not have such an easy upgrade path available — or may not even be aware of the availability and desirability of performing regular OS updates.

This limits access to the latest and greatest Android features to only a portion of the targeted audience, so much so that developing for specific phone models on the premise that their OS will never be updated, may make more sense than generically catering to the “Android market” and assuming that all users will fully enjoy the same experience.

Some observers, however, contend that in the real world, Android fragmentation is much to do about nothing; as regardless of its version, Android is a capable, modern and powerful platform. For these Android supporters, its older flavors are good enough and fragmentation is a moot point, as a user not updating to the latest OS version does not significantly dull the cutting edge. They also point to the necessity of fragmentation.

Writing for The Guardian, Matthew Baxter-Reynolds noted the fast pace of Android development, where new OS version releases may be separated by a few brief months.

“Without ‘fragmenting’ the platform — in this case without having a stream of new versions hitting the market — you cannot create adequate competitive pressure in the market,” Baxter-Reynolds stated. “As Apple, and to an extent Microsoft, keep innovating, it’s essential that Google is moving Android along at breakneck speed.”

This speedy development cycle is a huge part of the problem, however, as Google outpaces its own carrier and handset manufacturing partners.

“Google is used to moving that quickly. A company like HTC or Samsung is not,” Baxter-Reynolds added. “Nor are carriers (which test software updates thoroughly before allowing them to be rolled out over their network). The mobile phone market and its incumbent members are used to moving at much slower pace than this.”

Baxter-Reynolds, citing the preponderance of incremental changes that are incorporated in OS upgrades, advises developers to target older versions such as Éclair, which is compatible with more than 98 percent of current Android devices, or Froyo, compatible with nearly 87 percent of Android devices, as a means of accessing most of the platform’s features.

“By aiming low you will hit the maximum customer base with the advantage that customers will automatically take advantage of improvements in the platform such as those related to performance and security the higher up the chain they go,” Baxter-Reynolds concluded.

The lesson in all this is that while the Android platform holds much promise for adult developers, outpacing customers and partners by targeting the bleeding edge may do little more than turn your bottom line red.