Developer enthusiasm for iPad slackens as Android surges

Android's the platform to watch, says survey

Developer enthusiasm for Apple Inc.'s iPad has cooled somewhat because the tablet lacks multitasking and a camera, a company that makes cross-platform development tools said today.

Appcelerator Inc. surveyed more than 1,000 developers earlier this month, and 80% of the respondents said that they are very interested in building an application for the Apple tablet in the next year, according to Scott Schwarzhoff, vice president of marketing at the Mountain View, Calif.-based company. In a similar Appcelerator poll conducted two months ago, just before Apple CEO Steve Jobs stepped on stage to introduce the iPad, 90% of the respondents said they were very interested in building an iPad app in the next 12 months.

"Before the announcement, there was tons of hype about the iPad and tons of speculation about its features," said Schwarzhoff. "After, it was clear that a couple of key features wouldn't make it in the first round, including a camera and multitasking. That's nothing that can't be fixed down the road, but it did temper enthusiasm."

That 10-point drop wasn't a surprise, said Schwarzhoff; it was just reality setting in. "Their reasoning seems pretty solid," he argued, pointing out that many of the developers who said they would hold off on iPad software for now are doing so because the applications they wanted to build required multitasking.

The latest survey results might reflect the fact that developers are coming to terms with the newness of not only the iPad, but also the category that Apple hopes to create. "Like consumers, developers are trying to wrap their arms around the iPad," Schwarzhoff said.

Of the developers who were polled, 53% said they were "very interested" in the iPad as a development platform, down from 58% in January. That put the tablet in third place, behind the iPhone, with 87%, and Google's Android operating system, with 81%, but significantly ahead of others, such as the BlackBerry, with 43%, and Windows Phone 7, with 34%.

But the fall-off isn't likely to worry Apple, Schwarzhoff acknowledged. "There's no way that the iPad can not do well," he said.

Appcelerator's newest survey also uncovered striking differences among developers who work at large and small companies. Those at small companies are more eager to dive into the iPad world. Of developers who work at firms with 10 or fewer employees, 56% were said they were very interested in the iPad platform. In contrast, only 36% of the developers at organizations with 1,000 or more employees said the same.

Schwarzhoff attributed that to a stronger "be first or be dead" attitude among developers at smaller companies, which want to stake a claim on iPad turf as soon as possible. Developers at large enterprises, on the other hand, likely work under mandates to support mission-critical platforms, like the iPhone, Android and the BlackBerry, and their resources simply won't stretch to accommodate another one.

"It's a nice-to-have versus a need-to-have," Schwarzhoff said of the iPad. "Basically, developers are saying that the iPhone and Android are the mandatory requirements. So to them, the iPad is a nice-to-have platform."

While the tempered enthusiasm for the iPad and the continued strong interest in the iPhone came as no shock, what amazed Appcelerator was the very strong showing of Android. Google's platform nearly caught up with the iPhone in the two months since the January survey. Early this year, the gap between Android and the iPhone -- as measured by the percentage of developers who said they were very interested in working on the platform -- was 18 percentage points. In the March poll, the iPhone's lead had narrowed to just six points.

"It's pretty clear that developers believe that Android is a must-have platform," Schwarzhoff said. "If I'm going to do one [platform], I'll pick the iPhone, but if I have the resources, I'll also do Android."

Interest in other mobile platforms, including Microsoft's Windows Phone 7 and Research In Motion Ltd.'s BlackBerry, climbed as well. Between Appcelerator's January and March poll surveys, the percentage of developers who said they were very interested in creating software for Microsoft's revamped platform nearly tripled, climbing from 13% to 34%. RIM's numbers also surged, growing from 21% in January to 43% this month.

"But the most important trend," said Schwarzhoff, "is Android. That's the platform to watch."

Appcelerator plans to release a new application development platform, Titanium Tablet SDK, on April 5, two days after the iPad launch this Saturday. Like the company's flagship Titanium 1.0, which lets Web developers create native iPhone, Android, PC, Mac and Linux applications using JavaScript, HTML and CSS, the Tablet SDK will allow them to turn out native iPad software.

More information about the survey results can be found on the Appcelerator site, where the full results are available for downloading (download PDF).

Gregg Keizer covers Microsoft, security issues, Apple, Web browsers and general technology breaking news for Computerworld. Follow Gregg on Twitter at @gkeizer, or subscribe to Gregg's RSS feed . His e-mail address is gkeizer@ix.netcom.com.

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