Survey: App makers' interest in Android tablets slows

The iPad may face increased competition from tablets running Android, but that’s doing little to stoke the enthusiasm of mobile developers, according to a new survey from development software maker Appcelerator. The survey found that interest in developing for Android among Appcelerator’s developers is plateauing, particularly when it comes to creating apps for Android-based tablets.

Of the 2760 Appcelerator developers surveyed from April 11 to 13, 85 percent reported an interest in developing apps for Android phones while 71 percent expressed interest in making apps for Android tablets. While those percentages are high, they’re also down two and three percentage points respectively from the same survey Appcelerator conducted in January. The drop-off comes after Android had logged steady gains in developer interest over the past year, according to Appcelerator.

In contrast, Apple’s iOS platform continues to interest Appcelerator developers. Interest in developing apps for the iPhone clocked in at 91 percent in the most recent survey, while iPad app interest was 86 percent. Those numbers are essentially unchanged from last quarter’s survey, Appcelerator vice president of marketing Scott Schwarzhoff told Macworld.

Surveys of developer preference should always be taken with the customary grains of salt, but the latest Appcelerator numbers provide an interesting snapshot for a couple reasons. First, the survey features developers who use Appcelerator Titanium, a cross-platform mobile development tool—in other words, a crowd with an interest in building apps across multiple platforms. There’s also the issue of timing—the survey comes after some of the multitude of tablets hyped at this year’s Consumer Electronics Show have hit the market, giving mobile developers their first chance to see that hardware in action.

And that could be one of the main drivers behind developers’ cooling enthusiasm toward making apps for Android tablets, according to Appcelerator’s latest survey. Asked which areas pose the biggest risks to Android’s success, two-thirds of the developers surveyed cited fragmentation, with 30 percent citing weak traction for tablets and 28 percent saying there were too many Android app stores. (Developers could cite more than one risk.)

With different versions of Android available for different devices, fragmentation has been a growing concern in the Android market. But Schwarzhoff argues that Android fragmentation is only part of the story: “Fragmentation is basically six layers deep,” he said.

The most pressing concern for developers surveyed by Appcelerator is skill fragmentation—that is, the ability to build programs using different developing tools and languages. That’s followed by fragmented OS capabilities—different mobile operating systems support different features—and then Android fragmentation. Developers are also concerned by the demands of developing for different devices (such as phones versus tablets) and building and support more than one app.

Appcelerator also found a disparity between interest in Android in general and enthusiasm for specific hardware. While 71 percent of the developers surveyed expressed an interest in building apps for an Android tablet, only 52 percent described themselves as very interested in the Galaxy Tab. That was the only Android tablet to top the 50 percent mark—just 44 percent said they were very interested in the Motorola Xoom, while 31 percent expressed an interest in the yet-to-be-released HTC Flyer.

“You could certainly draw the conclusion that the hardware is a significant drag factor in the interest toward Android development,” said Schwarzhoff, adding that the initial high prices of Android tablets could be behind some of that diminished enthusiasm. It will be interesting to see if that changes as Android tablet price tags drop.

If the results of the Appcelerator survey were a disappointment to Google, they’re downright depressing to both Microsoft and Research in motion. Interest in developing for the Windows Phone 7 platform fell seven percentage points from last quarter’s survey to 29 percent. That was still good enough to land Windows Phone 7 in third place, as the Blackberry phone fell even further—interest dipped 11 percentage points to 27 percent.

The decline in interest among those platforms seems less about features and capabilities, Schwarzhoff noted. “Developers don’t have the resources to devote to a third [mobile] OS,” he added.

Disclaimer: Appcelerator conducts its surveys jointly with market research firm IDC, which is owned by the same parent company as Macworld.

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