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Survey reveals Android developers’ frag fears

Apr 6, 2011 — by LinuxDevices Staff — from the LinuxDevices Archive — 1 views

Android platform fragmentation is worrisome to mobile developers, while Apple's iOS is seen to offer advantages in platform stability, app store management, and billing, according to a recent survey by Robert W. Baird and Co. Nevertheless, respondents appeared to be equally bullish on writing apps for either operating system, both of which beat other platforms such as BlackBerry or Windows Phone by a large margin in the “future outlook” category.

Android is pacing the U.S. smartphone market with 33 percent share, according to ComScore, while IDC says Android should climb to a leading 39.5 percent share of the global smartphone market this year. Meanwhile, Android will represent 45 percent of global smartphone sales by 2016 in the latest ABI Research projections. (Recent hot-selling Android phones include the 4G-ready HTC ThunderBolt pictured at right, which is outselling Apple's iPhone 4 on Verizon according to one report.)

But despite the continuing warm welcome for Android from consumers, gross fragmentation in the Android platform and overall ecosystem has some developers nervous, according to a survey of 250 developers conducted by Robert W. Baird and Co. analyst William Power.

For context, 71 percent of the respondents develop for Android, followed by 62 percent for iOS. Also, 70 percent of the iOS developers claimed they also develop for Android, with 63 percent of Android developers also developing for iOS. Presumably, this lends some validity to developers' ability to judge both platforms.

According to the Baird survey, some 56 percent of Android developers said that OS fragmentation is a meaningful or huge problem. Indeed, a quick perusal of Google's Android device dashboard shows seven versions of Android, including the new Android 3.0 "Honeycomb" platform. Additional fragmentation is caused by vendors applying their own UI "skins" to Android.

Moreover, the rise of new Android applications stores from Verizon Wireless and has Android programmers worried. Power said developers prefer a unified, single store experience like Apple's App Store.

"We view this feedback as directionally negative for the Android ecosystem and its handset partners, though we would note that this risk is well known by the market, and developers view Android's long-term prospects as bright," Power wrote in his April 4 research note.

Does fragmentation irk devs more than consumers?

The bright, long-term prospects are likely indicative of the fact that consumers don't seem to care about the developer angst and platform fragmentation. Few are likely worried about it, even if they would acknowledge that Apple's App Store has both more application choices than the Android Market — 350,000-plus apps compared to 150,000 — and is easier to navigate.

Power found in his poll that iOS continues to lead the charge in application visibility. Android developers said they were concerned their apps were getting buried by "junk" apps. Google sought to address the Android visibility issue by refurbishing the Android Market client and building the Android Market Webstore, which lets users buy apps from their computer and install them to their phone via the cloud.

iOS also paces the market in helping developers to get paid by a wide margin, beating Android, Research In Motion's BlackBerry and Microsoft Windows Phone 7, says the survey. Some 74 percent of those polled by Power ranked iOS as number one or number two when it comes to getting paid.

Apple iOS programmers have racked up $3 billion in revenues since the App Store launch in 2008. To improve revenue generation options for Android developers, Google last week launched in-app billing on Android Market.

Despite iOS' perceived advantages, the respondents appeared to consider Android as an equal opportunity platform in the long run. Over 60 percent of respondents listed the long-term outlook for Apple and Android as "excellent," with Research in Motion's Blackberry and Microsoft Windows Phone 7 below 10 percent. 

Google has earned kudos from many developers and industry observers for recent attempts to clamp down on fragmentation, although many others see the moves as violating Android's open source foundation.

After revealing that it was delaying the release of open source code for Honeycomb to keep smartphone vendors from trying to use it inappropriately, Google is allegedly demanding that vendors seek approval for any changes they make to the platform's code. There are reports that the company is increasingly strong-arming handset vendors into discarding their UI skins for a pure Google experience like that found on its own Samsung-built Nexus S (pictured), which is free of the vendor's usual TouchWiz UI layer.

Page takes helm at Google

All these challenges and many more face Google co-founder Larry Page, who took over as CEO this week from new executive chairman Eric Schmidt. Also this week, in a move that some see as being linked, Google senior vice president for product management Jonathan Rosenberg left the company.

Clint Boulton is a writer for our sister publication eWEEK.

This article was originally published on and has been donated to the open source community by QuinStreet Inc. Please visit for up-to-date news and articles about Linux and open source.

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