Too-high Android tablet prices spook developers

Apple's iOS remains the top dog, but programmers cool to Android

While developer interest in Apple's mobile devices remains solid, interest in Android has stalled among programmers disappointed with tablet prices and pressed by Android fragmentation, a survey published today showed.

"Interest in Android on tablets has stalled, or plateaued, however you want to put it," said Scott Schwartzhoff, vice president of marketing at Mountain View, Calif.-based Appcelerator.

The poll, conducted two weeks ago by Appcelerator and research firm IDC, polled more than 2,700 developers who use Appcelerator's Titanium cross-platform compiler to produce mobile applications using JavaScript, HTML and CSS.

The numbers reflect a growing frustration that Android tablets don't stack up against Apple's iPad, and that their biggest weapon -- lower prices -- has not been used.

"After CES, there was a lot of excitement in Android tablets," said Schwartzhoff, referring to the January trade show were scores of tablets were announced. "But after the initial tablet devices were rushed to market, developers saw that they came with a higher-than-expected price. That's a major factor in the drop in enthusiasm."

Of the developers surveyed, 91% said that they were "very interested" in creating apps for the iPhone, a slip of one percentage point from Appcelerator's last quarterly survey. Apple's iPad collected 86%, also a drop of one point.

"The iPhone maintains that really lofty status from a developer perspective," said Schwartzhoff.

But interest in Android on smartphones fell two points to 85%, while on tablets the "very interested" number was 71%, a three-point slide.

Although the survey's margin of error is +/-2 points, Schwartzhoff read the drop in Android tablet development interest as significant.

"How many times will we go through this cycle of [Android] tablet introductions to mixed reviews, and at higher price than expected?" said Schwartzhoff. "Then we wait for the next tablet, rinse and repeat. Every time that happens it reinforces the thought, 'I don't know about Android on non-phone devices.'"

Schwartzhoff contrasted the new dip in Android interest with last quarter's enthusiasm , when Google's mobile operating system jumped five points on smartphones, 12 points on tablets.

In that survey, developers identified the price of Android tablets as the top factor to their success.

While several Android-powered tablets have appeared, notably Samsung's Galaxy Tab and Motorola's Xoom, Schwartzhoff argued that their prices are still too high for developers to bet on.

One indication, he said, is that the 71% of developers who said they were "very interested" in Android on tablets wasn't matched with similar numbers when they were asked about interest in specific hardware. Only 51% said they were very interested in developing for the Galaxy Tab, and just 44% said the same of the Xoom.

"There's a value disparity between Android tablets in theory and Android tablets in reality," said Schwartzhoff, referring to the 20-points-and-more split. "That difference in trajectory is the most interesting thing to watch in the next months."

Schwartzhoff also attributed some of the fall-off in Android interest to continued concern by developers of fragmentation, a term typically used to describe the multiple versions of the operating system out and about on both old and new smartphones.

But Appcelerator sees fragmentation as a bigger issue.

While nearly two-thirds of developers said that fragmentation was their top concern, when Appcelerator and IDC dug deeper, the Android OS fragmentation issue came in third, with 21%, behind other answers, including skills fragmentation (33%) and OS fragmentation (22%).

"Fragmentation on Android is six layers deep," said Schwartzhoff, explaining that all mobile application developers face problems finding skilled programmers, keeping up with the rapid changes in operating system differences, and managing a suite of apps that must be maintained or ported to another platform.

"Set against this, Android fragmentation piles on top of an already sore spot," said Schwartzhoff, noting that iOS-only developers don't face the problems of multiple handsets, multiple OS editions, multiple app stores.

"Fragmentation is hugely important, and also cumulative," said Schwartzhoff. "And now Android developers are being asked to add in tablets?"

Something has to give, and apparently, it's Android tablets that some are willing to abandon, at least for now.

"These are big concerns," said Schwartzhoff, "because Android developers know they have couple of major issues right out of the gate."

The Appcelerator/IDC survey summary can be viewed on the former's Web site ; registration -- name, email address and phone number -- are required to download the full report.

Read more about app development in Computerworld's App Development Topic Center.

Copyright © 2011 IDG Communications, Inc.

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