Developers high on Android's future, but favor iOS for now

Jason AnkenyThe future belongs to Google's Android, even if the present is all about Apple's (NASDAQ:AAPL) iOS. Close to 59 percent of more than 2,300 developers surveyed in mid-September by mobile software platform provider Appcelerator and research firm IDC believe Android is the operating system to beat over the long haul, compared to 34.9 percent favoring iOS--just three months ago, Android was the pick to click among 54.0 percent of developer respondents, with 40.4 percent casting their vote with iOS. How did the gap widen by 10.1 percentage points in only three months? Appcelerator and IDC report that 72 percent of developers feel Android "is best positioned to power a large number and variety of connected devices in the future," compared to 25 percent for iOS. Developers also believe Google's connected television aspirations hold more promise than Apple's rival efforts--while 44 percent of developers express strong interest in creating apps for Google TV, 40 percent indicate comparable enthusiasm for Apple TV.

In the here and now, however, iOS is still the straw that stirs the drink. Ninety-one percent of developer respondents say they are "very interested" in creating apps for iPhone, two percentage points ahead of Apple's iPad tablet and nine points higher than Android smartphones. The emergence of Android-powered tablets is also piquing developer curiosity, with 62 percent of respondents expressing strong interest in building Android apps optimized for large form-factor devices. The decline in developer enthusiasm is steep from there, however--just 34 percent of developers maintain serious interest in writing for BlackBerry, while 28 percent express strong interest in Windows Phone 7. The numbers are even grimmer for webOS (16 percent) and Symbian (13 percent), with only 7 percent of developers mustering genuine excitement about Nokia's (NYSE:NOK) MeeGo, tied with Amazon's Kindle ereader platform.

Despite the smart money favoring Android over the long haul, iOS isn't in danger of falling out of grace anytime soon. Seventy-five percent of developers believe iOS still presents the best revenue opportunity, compared to 20 percent citing Android--moreover, 80 percent contend Apple's App Store is the premier application marketplace, with only 10 percent naming Android Market. And while App Store discoverability remains the subject of much handwringing, 76 percent of devs say it's still easiest to find apps there, compared to the 20 percent who gave the nod to Android Market. iOS also gets the edge of Android in respect to device quality (65 percent to 31 percent) and security (58 percent to 20 percent), with 74 percent of developers pointing to iOS as the least fragmented platform--only 11 percent made the same argument about Android. But Android wins out in regard to overall OS capabilities (57 percent, compared to 36 percent for iOS) and platform openness (85 percent to a mere 6 percent for iOS).

Although iOS and Android appear to have mobile software development all sewn up, the kinds of apps developers are building continue to diversify. Appcelerator developers are now deploying more than 1,000 new apps each month, with 71 percent falling into the consumer app category and business apps making up the remaining 29 percent. Social networking projects dominate consumer app development, followed in descending order by entertainment, utilities, games and lifestyle apps; productivity-themed efforts top business app development, trailed by document management, salesforce automation, messaging/communication and a three-way tie between health, finance and retail. iOS may lead today and Android might assume control tomorrow, but regardless of the platform, app variety is the spice of life--past, present and future. -Jason