Android activations are exploding, so why are developers flocking to iOS?

Jason Ankenyeditor's corner

Less than a month ago, Google (NASDAQ:GOOG) senior vice president Andy Rubin dusted off his rarely used Twitter account to trumpet the news that Android device activations had surpassed 500,000 a day, adding that activations are growing at a pace of 4.4 percent week over week. So it shouldn't have been too much of a surprise when Google CEO Larry Page announced last week that daily Android activations now eclipse 550,000--it's an eye-popping number nevertheless, and the operating system's growth shows no signs of slowing down. Google vice president of products Susan Wojcicki adds that there are now 135 million active Android devices worldwide, up from 100 million two months ago--manufacturers have released 400 Android device models in all, while Android Market boasts more than 250,000 applications, translating to roughly 6 billion downloads to date.

And yet none of those numbers seem to boost Android's stature in the eyes of developers--in fact, the platform continues to lose developer support to Apple's (NASDAQ:AAPL) rival iOS. Mobile application analytics firm Flurry reports that the number of iPhone app project starts more than doubled the number of new Android app builds during the second quarter: Fifty-seven percent of new projects on the Flurry platform targeted the iPhone or iPod touch, up from 54 percent in the first quarter, and another 15 percent targeted Apple's iPad tablet, up from 10 percent a quarter earlier. That means only 28 percent of projects targeted Android, down from 36 percent in the first quarter--Android's second consecutive decline after peaking at 39 percent in the fourth quarter of 2010.

Flurry credits the shift in developer support to Verizon Wireless' (NYSE:VZ) February 2011 launch of the iPhone as well as the March introduction of the iPad 2. (Apple will release its quarterly earnings report Tuesday, and analysts say the iPad is on pace to generate greater revenues than the company's entire Mac division by the end of this year.) "While Android's device installed base continues to surge, ongoing work to improve the Android Market layout and to push forward the adoption of Google Checkout are critical to its success," Flurry product marketing manager Charles Newark-French writes. "PayPal's recent acquisition of mobile payment player Zong demonstrates that Google may not be enabling consumer payment quickly or well enough, which is inviting 3rd party competition and creating billing fragmentation. Furthermore, the development community is concerned about the rising cost of deploying across the Android installed base, due to the double whammy of OS and storefront fragmentation."

No less problematic for Android, the consumer pendulum is swinging back to iOS as well. Forty-six percent of consumers who plan to buy a smartphone in the next 90 days want an iOS device, up 2 percentage points from March 2011, according to a new survey conducted by ChangeWave Research--32 percent expect to purchase an Android device, up 1 percentage point over the previous quarter. In addition, while 70 percent of existing iOS users say they are very satisfied with their current smartphone, only 50 percent of Android owners express comparable enthusiasm for their current phone. Apple's forthcoming iCloud digital streaming platform is also capturing consumer attention, with 29 percent of existing Apple product owners and 13 percent of non-Apple owners telling ChangeWave that the new service makes them more likely to purchase Cupertino products in the future. No matter how big Android gets, it never seems able to grow out of the iPhone's shadow. -Jason