May 17, 2013, 11:43 AM — Google did its best to court developers at this year's I/O conference with a much-needed integrated developer environment, API for better games and the ability to more easily translate apps. Their allegiance will become increasingly important as smartphone and tablet hardware sees fewer dramatic improvements.
"You guys, Android developers, are really the heart of this ecosystem and I think you know that. We have been on this journey together for over five years now," said Hugo Barra, vice president of Android product management, during the opening keynote.
The past 12 months have been lucrative for Android developers, according to Barra.
"Here is a pretty insane number for you: Google Play has just crossed 48 billion app installs ... but even better than that; over the last four months this year we have already paid out more money to Android developers on Google Play than in all of last year," Barra said.
Google's focus on developers doesn't come as a surprise, given how the smartphone and tablet market is changing, according to those in the industry.
"Without great apps and content, a mobile device is just a very expensive telephone. Making developers productive and engaged is the number one goal for any platform company and that seems to be the clear goal at I/O 2013," said Michael Mullany, CEO at development framework and tool vendor Sencha.
As the hardware and design becomes less of a differentiator for smartphones and tablets, the service and the apps that developers create are becoming more important.
"We all know that Android and iOS have significantly more apps than, for example, Windows. Is that a key factor in people's buying decisions? I think it's a factor and a growing one," said Mark Newman, chief research officer at Informa Telecoms & Media.
Google isn't the only company that is chasing developers. This week saw the release of an open beta for Unity's BlackBerry 10 add-on, which lets developers use Unity's cross-platform game development tools to create games for the new operating system.
With IDC's first-quarter numbers showing Android's smartphone market share at 75 percent and BlackBerry OS at 2.9 percent, the two platforms are in very different positions, and that is mirrored in their developer strategies. While BlackBerry is hoping cross-platform tools will lower the bar for developers, Google launched an IDE (integrated developer environment) for Android specifically.
Android Studio, which is based on the IntelliJ IDEA Community Edition, drew loud applause from the audience at I/O. It is a step in the right direction for Google, thanks to features such as the ability to see how an app looks on different screen sizes, of which there is a growing number on Android. Better user interface editing is also something Android needs, according to mobile developer Konrad Hübner.