Google Android developers plateau – iOS in the lead

28 Apr 2011

As the ‘mobile cloud’ swerves into view, new research shows that developers are more interested in creating for Apple’s iOS ecosystem for tablets and smartphones while enthusiasm for Google’s Android ecosystem is waning.

The Appcelerator-IDC Q2 2011 Mobile Developer Report, taken April 11-13, shows that interest in Android has recently plateaued as concerns around fragmentation and disappointing results from early tablet sales have caused developers to pull back from their previous steadily increasing enthusiasm for Google’s mobile operating system.

While this opens the door a crack for new entrants, nearly two-thirds of respondents believe it is not possible for Microsoft, RIM, HP and Nokia to reverse momentum relative to Apple and Google.

Underscoring the fluidity of the mobile ecosystem, and in a peculiar turn of events, recent simultaneous drops in developer interest in Windows Phone 7 and BlackBerry OSes moved Windows Phone 7 ahead of BlackBerry to claim the third spot in developer interest.

Apps – a trillion-dollar market

With more than a trillion dollars in market cap at play in today’s mobile platform wars, there is little room for error in strategy or execution.

Apple iOS interest remains high, with 91pc of developers saying they are ‘very interested’ in iPhone development and 86pc are very interested in developing for the iPad.

Google witnessed a plateau in its earlier momentum gains. Reported interest in Android phones fell two points to 85pc and Android tablets fell three points to 71pc after increasing 12 points in Q1.

Nearly two-thirds (63pc) of respondents said that device fragmentation in Android poses the biggest risk to Android, followed by weak initial traction in tablets (30pc) and multiple Android app stores (28pc).

When it comes to fragmentation, Android’s issues are not the No 1 fragmentation concern among developers. In fact, fragmentation in mobile today is six layers deep. Android fragmentation only ranks third behind the fragmentation of skills (eg, Objective-C vs Java), and the fragmentation of OS capabilities (eg, iOS vs Android vs WP7).

This context sheds light on how fragmentation within the Android operating system compounds an already larger problem, and it will be a critical issue for Google to address and an opportunity for competitors like Microsoft, HP, Nokia and RIM to exploit.

What developers are interested in

While 71pc of developers are very interested in Android as a tablet OS, only 52pc are very interested in one of the leading Android tablet devices today, the Samsung Galaxy Tab.

Further down the list, only 44pc are very interested in the Motorola Xoom and 31pc in the upcoming HTC Flyer. Smaller players (Acer, Archos, etc) register minimal interest. In short, the promise of an Android tablet is appealing, but the reality of currently, or soon-to-be, shipping devices is disappointing to developers.

Microsoft edges RIM to become the third horse, but there is not much cause for celebration as respondents’ interest in Microsoft and RIM dropped substantially compared to last quarter. Microsoft fell seven points, with only 29pc of developers saying they are ‘very interested’ in the Windows Phone 7, while BlackBerry phones dropped 11 points to 27pc.

On the upside, and partly as a result of Microsoft’s partnership announcement with Nokia, Windows Phone 7 interest fell four points less than BlackBerry to make Microsoft the new No 3 in developer interest behind Apple and Google.

Despite Android’s apparent plateau and potential slight pullback, the road to becoming No 2 will be long for either Microsoft or RIM. In fact, 62pc of respondents say it will be impossible for anyone to catch up to market leaders Apple and Google.

Beyond market share concerns, however, Microsoft’s biggest problem with developers may simply be available time, as noted by the 46pc of respondents who indicated, “I have my hands full with iOS and/or Android.” In addition to landing major distribution partnerships and exploiting Android’s fragmentation and security holes, making app migrations from iOS and Android to Windows Phone 7 easy and profitable for developers will be critical for Microsoft.

“Android remains an exceptionally strong OS but the cumulative effect of unresolved issues with the Android ecosystem is taking a toll on developers,” notes report series co-author Scott Ellison, vice-president of Mobile & Connected Consumer Platforms, IDC.

“The challenge for Google will be to better align app developer momentum with the momentum of Android device shipment numbers, and therein lies a competitive opportunity for Microsoft, Nokia and RIM,”  he notes.

The mobile cloud has arrived

As mobile device shipments surpass desktop shipments, the demand for software, information and data portability becomes ever greater. The result is that the single, three-tier web model used for the past 15 years is now giving way to a distributed, cloud-based and cloud-connected services model primarily accessed by mobile devices.

This dynamic introduces a new ‘mobile cloud’ era in the form of always-on, always connected computing. The opportunity for innovation in the mobile cloud is huge, as it represents the future of how disparate software, data and information sources will connect to, and help solve the fragmentation issues between the multiple devices and multiple operating systems that are now defining the new computing world order.

This quarter, Appcelerator and IDC surveyed developers and businesses on the extent to which they use the mobile cloud in their applications and which cloud-enabled and cloud-based services are most important. Key mobile cloud findings include:

  • 84pc of respondents said they are using at least one cloud-enabled or cloud-based service in their applications today; 78pc are using social cloud services such as Facebook or Twitter
  • 70pc are using commerce (eg, PayPal, Apple)
  • 70pc are connecting to their own behind-the-firewall enterprise services, such as Oracle, SAP or another back-end database
  • 65pc are streaming media such as YouTube or Flickr
  • 65pc are using real-time messaging, such as Urban Airship
  • 42pc are displaying mobile ads from services such as iAd or AdMob
  • 54pc use analytics in their applications, such as Omniture, Appcelerator, or Flurry
  • 44pc deploy cloud platform services to Amazon, Microsoft Azure, etc.

Multiple clouds define the mobile cloud: developers and businesses, on average, plan to use 13 of the 44 services with mobile cloud components polled in their applications now and over the coming 12-18 months.

These mobile cloud-enabled services are increasingly being accessed through both mobile applications and mobile websites: more than 80pc of mobile app developers said they either are building or plan to build mobile websites this year. However, most respondents indicated that the revenue opportunity, customer demand, and user experience still strongly favours mobile applications.

“With over 20,000 native mobile applications in the Appcelerator Titanium portfolio today, we have seen an overriding theme emerge: mobile and cloud-connectivity are together defining the context and engagement of the key mobile app scenarios in use today,” explained Jeff Haynie, CEO, Appcelerator.

“It is important for any business looking at mobile to have a strategy around a well-orchestrated integration between the cloud and mobile applications,” Haynie said.

John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years