Developers of smart-phone apps are coding all out, and they can hardly keep up with Apple’s iPad and iPhone, let alone the explosion of Android devices and new offerings from RIM and Microsoft. That’s the takeaway from the joint IDC/Appcelerator quarterly survey of 2,760 mobile developers, out today.
The survey represents the third such partnership between research firm IDC and Appcelerator, which builds products that help developers recompile their applications for multiple platforms. Over the past six months, developer interest in both Apple’s iOS platform and Google’s Android platform has remained flat, even as more Android devices have shipped than any other kind.
App developers say the problem is that as Android is deployed on more devices, it’s becoming harder to develop for it, because of a profusion of device specifications and a pool of newcomer app developers, many of whom were Web and desktop developers just two years ago. Robert Koch, whose team develops the task-list organizer Wunderlist, wrestles with the vagaries of Android development every day. (Wunderlist is on iOS, Android, OS X, Windows, and the Web.)
“It’s very, very difficult to write a good application for every Android device,” says Koch, who cites differing screen resolutions, hardware configurations, and CPU speeds as core concerns. “We had to buy a lot of devices just [to test] our little task-management app.”
Wunderlist is free, so Koch has not had the chance to observe the effects of Android’s imperfect payment system, which has been a barrier to revenue on Google’s Android Market. Although Wunderlist has been “pretty huge” on Android, says Koch, Android downloads represent only 7 percent of Wunderlist’s total downloads to date. Wunderlist has been on the Apple App Store three months longer than it has been on the Android Market, but even taking that into account, the Android share of its market is low, says Koch.
“Google has enormous momentum in terms of shipment numbers, but that’s not carrying over as cleanly as we might expect to developer interest,” says Scott Ellison of IDC. “There’s still distinctly more interest in Apple than in Android. Developers are choosing the number-two platform in installed base and shipment numbers.”