Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Android Devices Popular, But Developer Interest Is Falling


Fragmentation is threatening Google's popular Android operating system as consumers buy devices but developers move away. Nielsen found 31 percent of U.S. handset buyers want an Android device, compared to 30 percent for Apple's iPhone. But developer interest in Android handsets fell to 85 percent, and to 71 percent for Android tablets.

Nielsen reports that consumer interest in smartphones running Google's Android is rising in the U.S., with slightly more prospective buyers looking to buy an Android handset than Apple's iPhone. According to its latest survey, 31 percent of consumers who plan to get a new smartphone Relevant Products/Services indicated Android as their preferred operating system, while 30 percent favored Apple's iPhone and 11 percent favored a Research In Motion BlackBerry.

By contrast, during the same period last year, 33 percent of respondents wanted an iPhone, 26 percent favored Android, and 13 percent a BlackBerry. Moreover, Android's rise in popularity became even clearer when Nielsen surveyed consumers who purchased a smartphone recently.

"Half of those surveyed in March 2011 who indicated they had purchased a smartphone in the past six months said they had chosen an Android device Relevant Products/Services," Nielsen researchers wrote in a blog. "A quarter of recent acquirers said they bought an iPhone, and 15 percent said they had picked a BlackBerry phone."

Developers Wary of Fragmentation

Though Android's star is clearly on the rise in the U.S., some developers are frustrated with Google's platform. According to a new survey by Appcelerator and IDC, interest in software development for Android smartphones fell two points to 85 percent in the first half of April compared to three months earlier, and interest in Android tablets declined three points to 71 percent.

An issue that Google needs to address -- and which presents a potential opportunity for rivals Microsoft Relevant Products/Services, Hewlett-Packard, Nokia and RIM -- is fragmentation, the survey's authors observed, with Android developers facing multiple versions, skill sets and devices. Moreover, tepid interest in the tablets running Android is chipping away at Google's momentum, they said.

"Interest in developing for Android tablets jumped 12 points in our last quarterly survey conducted in January after 85 new tablets were announced at CES," they wrote. "Enthusiasm waned through the remainder of [the first quarter], however, and Android has fallen back three points to 71 percent of respondents saying they are 'very interested' in the tablet Relevant Products/Services OS."

Other Issues

Although Android's popularity decline in the development community isn't huge, it does suggest that developer interest in Android has reached a plateau. According to the survey, 63 percent of respondents said device fragmentation in Android poses the biggest risk to Google's platform, followed by weak initial traction in tablets (30 percent) and multiple Android app stores (28 percent).

"On the one hand, free availability of code and the flexibility that OEMs have is unprecedented, and has attracted many of them to make many devices," noted Al Hilwa, director of applications software development at IDC. "On the other hand, there are a variety of issues such as the overall fit and finish of the platform, the fragmentation of the devices, and the poor quality of apps in terms of data Relevant Products/Services leakage, privacy or even malware."

Moreover, OEMs adopting Android must contend with legal issues arising from a number of lawsuits filed against Google as well as individual handset makers by Oracle, Microsoft, Apple and others. Additionally, handset makers face the overall challenge of figuring out "how to differentiate [Android] when everyone has the exact thing you have," Hilwa said.

By contrast, interest in Apple's iOS remains high, with 91 percent of developers saying they are "very interested" in iPhone development. What's more, 86 percent of respondents said they are very interested in developing for the iPad Relevant Products/Services, the report said.

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