Developers Slowly Losing Interest in Android

Appcelerator, IDC Survey reveals fragmentation turning developers off Android

The fragmented Android universe may be causing app developers to think twice about bothering with the increasingly popular mobile platform, according to a new report.

Though Android smartphones and tablets are outselling Apple’s iOS devices, a new survey conducted by mobile platform company Appcelerator and research firm International Data Corporation (IDC) suggests that developers are gradually losing interest in the Android platform because the landscape is just too complicated.

According to a quarterly survey of Appcelerator developers around the world, interest in Android phones fell 4.7 percentage points to 78.6 percent quarter-over-quarter, and interest in Android tablets dropped 2.2 percentage points to 65.9 percent during the same time period. The researchers said the declines are close to or within the margins of error, but have been consistent over the past three quarters.

“What this tells us is that the fragmentation Android is experiencing at both the smartphone and tablet levels is really turning some developers off  the platform,” said Mike King, mobile strategist for Appcelerator. “Unless Google begins to curtail that fragmentation, we think that they’re going to continue to lose interest of the developers.”

The erosion of interest in Google’s mobile platform could also be due to monetization models, he continued. While iOS developers can only sell their apps through Apple’s app store, Android developers can take several paths to monetization.

“That’s more difficult, confusing and expensive,” King said.

Since January 2010, Appcelerator has joined with IDC to survey developers on its platform, giving its researchers a clear trend line. This quarterly survey included responses from 2,173 developers.

While the survey suggests that Google may have some work to do when it comes to fragmentation issues, said King, it also revealed that the tech giant is making some unexpected strides in impressing developers interested in social mobile applications, particularly when compared to social media titan Facebook.

When asked which company they thought was better positioned to support them in developing social mobile applications, 39 percent said Google’s networked properties were more important to them than the scale of Facebook’s social network.

The expectation, King said, was that given its volume of subscribers and credibility as a social network, Facebook would significantly outshine Google.

Instead, he said, they found that “Google’s punching way, way above its weight.”

When asked why developers backed the different platforms, those that supported Facebook pointed to its scale (not surprisingly), and those that indicated a preference for Google cited its many networked properties (including Google+, Google Maps, search, Gmail, etc.) and its developer outreach and engagement.

Developers see the intersection of mobile and social as a big opportunity, King said, but they’re struggling to figure out their place in it. According to the survey, 24 percent said they don’t feel comfortable innovating for social on mobile apps.

“If you believe that the next big battleground for social is going to be on mobile devices, it does position Google quite well against Facebook,” he said.

Another finding from the survey is that while developers expect HTML5 to play a bigger role in their upcoming projects, King said, they see it as one more architecture to include, not the dominant, be-all-end-all format.

While 79 percent of developers said they plan to use HTML5 in their apps for 2012, 94 percent said it will be in combination with other formats.

“It was surprising to us because there’s a ton of hype around HTML5,” he said. “[Many see it as] this white knight that’s going to come in and save us from ever having to do client side development again … and developers are clearly seeing through that.”