Yesterday the folks from Black Duck published some interesting information on the use and growth of open source projects in the mobile space. Their data confirms that open source mobile projects are alive and well, even in the age of the Splinternet/App Internet. In fact, there are now over 10,000 open source projects focused on popular mobile platforms (see Figure 1). What’s more interesting is the rate of growth – the number of new mobile projects with open source licenses has doubled in each of the past three years. It’s hard to believe that this rate of growth will continue into 2012, but betting against hyper-growth in the mobile space seems to be a good way for analysts to end up eating crow.

Figure 1: There Are More Than 10,000 Mobile OSS Projects

Here's why you need to care about open source as part of your "Mobile First" strategy:

  • Open source projects will be a factor in the platform wars. In case you haven’t noticed, we’re in the midst of a bloody multi-platform war between Apple, Google, Microsoft, Nokia, RIM, Samsung and their device-manufacturing allies.  Each is fighting hard for single points of market share. Numbers of devices in market matter, and customers buy devices with the best apps, the best content, and the best capabilities. This reality makes 3rd party developers kingmakers. Right now, the 3rd party developers who choose OSS licenses are favoring Android and iOS above all others, and favoring Android by a wide margin (see Figure 2).
  • Open source projects tend to foster disruptive innovation. Community-led open source projects tend to attract individuals who “Think Different”. They coalesce as a team around a new idea, or a problem that’s not getting solved by the market. Intrinsically motivated developers bring their passion to the problem, and aren’t afraid to try, deploy, fail and regroup. The results are projects like PhoneGap/Cordova, jQuery Mobile and node.js – critical components found inside many killer multi-channel mobile apps
  • Open source will commoditize mobile development. The previous generation of mobile technologies was largely commercially licensed, and very expensive. As credible, good enough open source mobile projects emerge they will create significant downward pricing pressure, especially for cross platform mobile solutions. Hybrid-style apps and middleware-style apps will become ever more affordable, and tip the balance away from purely native apps. Don’t get me wrong, firms will still build apps that customers install on devices and get from app stores, but an increasing number of these apps with share a common codebase written in HTML 5/Javascript/CSS 3 or Lua, or C/C++ or Delphi, or C# (Check out the open source LLVM project as the enabler of some of these approaches)

Figure 2: OSS Projects Focus On Android, iOS

Are you using open source as part of your “Mobile First” strategy? If so drop us a line and let us know which projects you’re counting on.