A recent survey by IDC on mobile application development has brought out an interesting trend with Android developers. They’re not as excited about Google’s mobile OS platform as they were last year. While a drop to 79% of developers remaining “very interested” in developing for Android Phones still leaves almost four in five developers looking at Mountain View’s code, there are a number of early signs in IDC’s follow up survey of issues that could impact the space in 2012 and 2013. Addressing these now makes a lot of sense for Google to prevent the Android ecosystem going stale; and of course indie developers living from app to app need to be conscious of all the pain points in their own business plan.
All The Lovely FragmentsA lot has been written about the multiple versions of Android that are in the public’s hand and how this can cause developers to aim for the lowest common denominator in their code (right now that’s probably 2.3). But it’s not just the OS. There’s no consistency in SDK tools, there are six main screen sizes to code for, with a mix of aspect ratios, different hardware buttons, physical keyboards, no buttons at all… yes you can code to address all of these in one code branch (unwieldy and tricky) or do multiple versions (which is as awkward as it sounds). That fragmenting of Android into many platforms would be fine if there was a good return, but that’s not the case.
The Return on Investment
It seems to be a rule of thumb that Android apps in general do not make as much money as an iOS application. That’s probably more a function of the people buying the handsets than the quality of the applications (Android powers a lot of budget monthly and pre-pay handsets, who are likely to spend less on apps), but it means that for all that extra work detailed above, there’s less return. When developers have limited time and resources and need to choose a platform, it’s not the installed base that’s important, it’s a simple phrase… “show me the money.”
The Volume of Clone ApplicationsLet’s assume you have an application that’s going to stand out thanks to doing something a little differently, be it a way to talk to social networks, to work with PIM data, or perhaps a new genre for gaming. Assuming you can lift yourself and the application out of the obscurity of hundreds of thousands of apps and actually make an impact with your app, expect countless developers to turn out clone versions that will undercut your price and dominate the listings for the basic search terms. It’s a rough, almost lawless life in the Android stores. How long until all these churnware publishers will make app promotion such an unfair fight that developers move on?
Where Will You Sell?The Google Play store, the Amazon Android Store, Barnes and Noble’s Nook Apps, Fasmicro, MiKandi, etc. That’s a lot of destinations where you can place your application. This is fragmentation of the market, and while it can sometimes help with device fragmentation, it means yet more juggling of multiple builds, variants, agreements, and headaches to build up.Contrast that with both iOS and Windows Phone which have… one central store each.
It might be okay for companies like EA and Ubisoft to deal with all these variants, but the small developer houses and hobby developers can’t spend all their time setting up the store accounts and managing them. Sometimes being open and allowing a free-for-all is not the best option once the rapid growth phase is over.
The Dangers of Shiny SyndromeWindows Phone is on the rise. Simple fact. AT&T are going to give the ecosystem a big kick with the US launch of the Nokia Lumia 900 and the HTC Titan 2 in April, but when faced with all the problems above, and having been in the Android developer space, maybe some developers are looking at the alternatives. Moving over to a new platform such as Windows Phone appeals to the tinkering nature of many – what can this new platform do, what is the SDK environment like, can I get in and be one of the big names in the store and hold on as more handsets are sold? The grass may or may not be greener on the other side, but if it provides a similar return for less effort, and the promise of a better return in the long terms, then Windows Phone could lure away developers.
In fact the IDC survey points out that interest in Windows Phone is on the rise, and now 40% of contacted developers are “very interested” in coding for Microsoft’s mobile platform. That’s just over half those very interested in Android.
Android developers are not going to walk away overnight, or even over a quarter, but if the cry of mobile is “apps, apps, apps” then any ecosystem will want to take care of their developers. And that means addressing the issues above to keep Android’s third party scene as strong as the market share rises,