App developers’ relative interest in the assortment of operating systems currently being deployed on mobile devices can be viewed simply as an indicator of the devices’ popularity. But it also can highlight nuances in how mobile users will eventually interact with the wireless world in general and with the Web in particular.
A survey co-produced by Appcelerator and research firm IDC, for example, found that app developer interest in Google’s (NASDAQ:GOOG) Android operating system is on the decline, likely due to fragmentation – modifications to Android that are so extensive that app developers won’t try to accommodate them all.
Interest in Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL) development, however, pushed it into first place, with Microsoft‘s (NASDAQ:MSFT) Windows Phone 7 in third and Research in Motion (NASDAQ:RIMM), which continues to see decreases in app development for its BlackBerry OS, in fourth. Another app developer language gaining traction in the mobile realm is relatively adaptable HTML5, particularly with mobile-browser apps.
More than 2,000 app developers participated in the survey. Eighty-nine percent expressed interest in the iPhone platform while interest in the iPad was only a percentage point lower. General Android operating systems appealed to 78.6% of developers, down five percentage points. Android tablets attracted 63.7%, down 2.2 percentage points.
Positives for Google
Previously, Android and Apple’s iOS had attracted roughly equal amounts of interest. Of the numerous versions of Android currently in use, seven are used by more than 1% of users. Sixty-one percent of users are operating an update of a version first released in December 2010, for example, while only 1% have Android 4.0, nicknamed “Ice Cream Sandwich,” which launched last October and has faced rollout delays. (Business Insider CEO Henry Blodgett recently posted a slide deck citing data that shows developer preference for iOS was actually significantly greater than that for Android throughout 2011. Again, fragmentation was cited as a key issue, although developers also see iOS as more lucrative.)
The news wasn’t all bad for Google. The survey found that 39% of developers found Google’s network of products – including Google search, YouTube, Gmail, and Google Maps – is more critical to their social mobile strategies than Facebook’s social network, which presents more-difficult network integration challenges.
“Google itself is clearly gearing up to leverage its network effects, one example being the alteration of its privacy policies to allow sharing of user data across its services,” said Scott Ellison, vice president of mobile and connected consumer platforms at IDC. Developers’ top uses of social platforms, the study authors noted, remain notifications, status updates and authentication.
The biggest loser was Research in Motion. Developer interest in RIM’s BlackBerry OS declined 5.2 points in one quarter, from 20.7% in late 2011 to 15.5% in early 2012. RIM recently made attracting Android developers a priority for its BlackBerry App World inventory.
RIM may continue to lose ground with developers if Microsoft’s forthcoming, mobile-centric Windows 8 operating system is successful. Google will (presumably) complete its ICS rollout, and the update will find its way into more mobile devices, preinstalled. Apple will continue to be Apple, maintaining its loyal fan base and potentially attracting new adopters with the rumored mini iPad launch.
It’s increasingly important for an operating system to remain attractive to developers or it risks losing top-tier apps that may attract customers and advertising interest. Last year, research firm MarketsandMarkets predicted that the global mobile app market will reach $25 billion before 2015.