With a wide array of protocols, standards, and regional differences by country, mobile platform fragmentation poses a serious challenge to brands with a need for a mobile marketing strategy. The solution? Some suggest the latest incarnation of the web development language, HTML5. Still other are crowing about the utility of cross-platform tools. But just how big a problem is platform fragmentation and why has it created such a big problem for businesses?

Mobile platform fragmentation prohibits market penetration: Compatibility with the top three or four mainstream native platforms (iOS, Android, Symbian and BlackBerry) brings apps to barely more than 20% of devices sold. In stark contrast, compatibility with only two or three mainstream browsers reaches 80% of web users.  Platform choice can mean sacrificing the right customer demographic in order to save money.  And with limited engineering resources, that’s exactly what most companies are doing.

App stores worsen platform complexity: Meanwhile, app stores worsen the platform conundrum.  With over fifty app stores, the problem of market penetration becomes amplified.  In addition, each of these stores has its own developer sign-up, app submission process, artwork and paperwork requirements, app certification and approval criteria, revenue model options, payment terms, taxation and settlement terms.  All of these additional restrictions don’t just keep people from getting their apps into the stores, they keep people from monetizing the apps that they already have in stores.

HTML5 is only part of the solution: According to ABI research, by 2016, more than 2.1 billion mobile devices will have HTML5 browsers.  While HTML5 is a technology that powers platforms to offer apps through browsers and enables the web to challenge native applications, it may solve only a small piece of the puzzle.  After all, different smartphones offer different levels of support for HTML5.  In addition, HTML5 simply doesn’t have the capabilities to do things like high-performance 3d graphics and integration with certain hardware functionality.

One thing’s for sure, the mobile application market is on the verge of a disruptive change, fueled by the need for innovation that solves the problem of mobile platform fragmentation.  The question of who or what will lead the way along this frontier remains to be answered.