Angst could drive Android developers to focus on far fewer mobile OSes

Android developers lose steam over fragmentation, but not just over Android

Mobile-device buyers are hot as ever for Android, but developers are getting more frustrated and less interested, according to an IDC survey of mindshare among mobile developers.

The key to their frustration is the number and inconsistent variety of devices running Android, which makes it difficult for software developers to build a single app that works well on all of them.

Concern about Android caused interest in it to plateau for the first time, but is only third on the list of fragmentation concerns, behind the increasing number of development languages required to develop mobile apps for a variety of devices, and the number of operating systems with significant amounts of market share, according to Appcelerator's analysis.

The survey, sponsored and assisted by dev-tool maker Appcelerator shows the 2,700 developers using Appcelerator tools to build apps for a variety of mobile devices are becoming increasingly frustrated at fragmentation of both the Android OS and market for it.

Devices running Android could have a touchscreen and manual buttons, only a touchscreen, WiFi, no WiFi, a small, low-res screen, a large high-res screen, a tablet screen with or without manual buttons and a range of processors, storage methods, acceleration sensors, location capabilities and other differences that could make one apps sing and another clunk.

Google recently announced it would delay releasing the tablet-specific Honeycomb version of Android to help consolidate form factors and software requirements.

It has also reportedly tightened up requirements on both phone makers and developers to try to keep all Android devices in a single market, rather than fragmenting into subcategories that would be more difficult for Google to manage and for developers to target.

Despite the chafing, two thirds of developers said there is virtually no chance OSes or hardware from Microsoft, RIM, HP or Nokia would become attractive enough to overtake Android as the No. 2 mobile dev platform, let alone the untouchable Apple iOS.

Ninety-one percent of Appcelerator developers are "very interested' in developing for iPhone and 86 percent are aiming for the iPad.

Interest in Android dropped from 87 percent to 85 percent since the last quarterly survey; interest in Android tablets fell three percentage points, to 71 percent, after rising 12 percentage points two quarters ago.

Only 52 percent are interested in developing for the Samsung Galaxy Tab, the highest-rated individually named Android tablet in the survey.

Conclusion? Developers don't like building apps for half a dozen OSes, half a million form factors and a million-and-a-half apps stores all at the same time. The mobile market is the best game in town right now, though, and keeping up with all the pieces is the price for getting in the game.

Don't expect them to pay it forever. Look for some consolidation – a lot of consolidation – in the number of developers trying to hit more than one or two operating systems, and don't expect a year from now that every Android app will work on every Android device.

A couple of categories each of smartphone and tablet would still fragment the market, but would set expectations more effectively for both developers and customers.

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