Developer interest in Android wanes, even as consumer demand surges

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jason ankeny

Is Android still on the upswing, or is it on the downward slope? Depends on your perspective--and whether you're a consumer or a developer. Subscribers are more smitten with Android than ever before: Thirty-one percent of U.S. mobile consumers are targeting the Google (NASDAQ:GOOG) operating system for their next smartphone purchase according to a new Nielsen Company survey, edging past Apple's (NASDAQ:AAPL) iOS for the first time. Granted, the iPhone remains close behind at 30 percent, but as recently as September 2010, iOS was the clear favorite among U.S. consumers, with 33 percent targeting iPhone for their next smartphone purchase compared to 26 percent sizing up Android.

Nielsen adds that snowballing consumer interest in Android is already translating to sales gains: Half of U.S. consumers who've purchased a smartphone over the last six months selected an Android device. A quarter of subscribers opted for iPhone, 15 percent chose a BlackBerry smartphone and 7 percent adopted Microsoft (NASDAQ:MSFT)'s Windows Phone/Windows Mobile. Nielsen adds that in terms of installed base, Android now represents 37 percent of the U.S. smartphone market--iOS ranks second at 27 percent, followed by BlackBerry at 22 percent market share. Windows Phone is at 10 percent, with Palm/WebOS (3 percent) and Symbian (2 percent) bringing up the rear.

But increasing subscriber demand for Android corresponds with mounting developer frustration, and although interest in build apps for the platform remains solid, programmer enthusiasm is clearly stalling. Mobile cloud platform provider Appcelerator and analyst firm IDC's Q2 2011 Mobile Developer Report, conducted between April 11 and 13, finds interest in Android slipping after months of escalating momentum: Although 85 percent of developers remain interested in creating Android smartphone apps, that number is down 2 percentage points compared to the first quarter. Even more significant, developer interest in Android tablet apps fell 3 percentage points to 71 percent after increasing 12 percentage points in the first quarter.

Asked to identify the biggest risk facing Android's future success, 30 percent of Appcelerator/IDC survey respondents cited limited traction for the first wave of tablets, although fragmentation remains by far developers' most significant concern at 63 percent. (Only 19 percent of developers said they can make more money with Apple, suggesting Google's efforts to improve Android monetization options are paying off--literally and figuratively.) "Android remains an exceptionally strong OS but the cumulative effect of unresolved issues with the Android ecosystem is taking a toll on developers," IDC VP of Mobile and Connected Consumer Platforms Scott Ellison said in a statement. "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 (NYSE:NOK) and RIM (NASDAQ:RIMM)."

Even so, there's little to indicate either BlackBerry or Windows Phone 7 poses any kind of legitimate threat. Only 29 percent of developers say they are very interested in WP7, and just 11 percent of respondents express genuine enthusiasm for BlackBerry, down 11 percentage points quarter over quarter. Which leaves iOS alone at the top: Ninety-one percent of developers are very interested in creating iPhone apps, and 86 percent express comparable enthusiasm writing for the iPad. Android may now reign as the people's choice, but developers are a far less fickle bunch. -Jason