iPhone still dominates developer focus, but Android gaining fast

Jason AnkenyIt's no surprise that iPhone and Android dominate developers' plans for future application builds--according to a new survey published by cross-platform development solutions provider Appcelerator, 90 percent of developers say they are very interested in creating applications for the iPhone, 84 percent express comparable enthusiasm for the iPad and 81 percent are casting their lot with Android. What is surprising is just how little interest developers express for rival smartphone platforms: Just 34 percent of devs tell Appcelerator they're very interested in writing BlackBerry apps, and even that number looks promising in comparison to Windows Phone 7 (27 percent), Symbian (15 percent), webOS (13 percent) and MeeGo (11 percent).  

Since it's clear developers have effectively written off everything but iOS and Android, the question turns to which of the two platforms will eventually win out. For now, Appcelerator respondents give iOS the edge, citing the quality and design of Apple's devices, the superiority of the App Store and the market for consumer and enterprise applications. But Android gets the nod over the long haul, with developers praising its OS capabilities as well as its openness--69 percent of respondents cited Android's potential to "show tremendous adaptability, from tablets to e-readers to set-top boxes" as its greatest strength as a platform.

But fragmentation fears still haunt Android. Sixty one percent of developers believe fragmentation poses the greatest risk to Android's future evolution, even more than competitive pressure from iOS, adding that testing and developing across the various Android OS versions and devices is cost and time-prohibitive. (Presented with eight development lifecycle stages, developers cited porting apps to multiple platforms as their biggest pain point.) Given that developers anticipate Android will eventually upend iOS, it seems reasonable to assume survey respondents believe Google will somehow solve the fragmentation conundrum sooner or later.

In the meantime, Apple remains the focal point, especially given its continuing popularity with consumers. The computing giant announced last week that iPad sales now top 3 million, and first-weekend sales on the new iPhone 4 exceeded 1.7 million--a Piper Jaffray survey indicates 77 percent of buyers were upgrading from a previous iPhone model, underscoring users' fierce loyalty to Apple products. iPhone 4 brings with it iOS 4 and a multitude of new bells and whistles--according to Appcelerator, 73 percent of developers cite multitasking as the new feature they're most eagerly anticipated, followed by faster processing (58 percent) and the new iAd mobile advertising network (33 percent). iAd, slated to go live July 1, could turn out to be iPhone's biggest competitive advantage of all: The ad platform could yield developer revenues reaching $825 million this year, according to a research note published last month by Bernstein Research analyst Toni Sacconaghi. Estimating that iPhone developers presently generate $1 billion to $1.8 billion in annual App Store sales, Sacconaghi notes that iAd revenues will herald an annual increase between 40 percent and 80 percent. Those kinds of numbers could persuade even the 10 percent of Appcelerator developer partners presently uninterested in iPhone to reconsider. -Jason

P.S. Check the FierceDeveloper website later this week for live coverage from Qualcomm's Uplinq conference, taking place in San Diego on June 30 and July 1.