A new study conducted by IDC and mobile-developer platform and services company Appcelerator is claiming that developer interest in Google’s Android operating system is falling as they fail to deal with the problem of fragmentation. The study is showing that developers are now less likely to have Android smartphones on their “must develop” lists – dropping to 79% interest, whilst interest in the iPhone stays constant at 89%, with the iPad up at a similar number (88%). Android tablets are, unsurprisingly, languishing rather lower at 66% – with few devices reaching critical mass.
There are plenty of Android users still running Gingerbread (Android 2.3), whilst tablet users are mostly on Honeycomb (Android 3.0), and recent smartphones and tablets now running Ice Cream Sandwich (Android 4.0). Add to that the vast array of screen sizes, buttoned and non-buttoned devices with all possible variations of bells and whistles and you get a complicated situation. The problem, however, is not the fragmentation itself, but the lack of an easy API for developers to use to pull out the relevant parts of each device and make their app work seamlessly whatever device a user may have. Fragmentation and device choice is not necessarily a bad thing, just ask Microsoft in the PC era, but APIs and graceful degradation when incompatible are very important.
Fragmentation of OS versions installed on smartphones is one reason that app developers are loosing interest in the OS, but the study also notes that a fragmented app store – with Amazon and Google both offering the service for Android users – resulting in reduced and divided earnings for developers. The recent delay in some developer payments probably won’t help either.
One thing that could account for Android’s small decline is the rise in reported interest in HTML5 universal app development, which has only been reported for the last nine months, but is currently sitting at 67%. It is certainly possible that with the fragmentation so wide within Android, developers are looking at a single truly cross-platform development that will work on all versions of Android (and pretty much every other smartphone device as well). Hybrid app development is also something to watch as developers make use of universal HTML5 for much of their app, but then use the native API’s for each device to properly “hook in” with the OS for certain tasks where HTML hooks are not available such as with the camera. Such hybrid apps could more easily sidestep the issue of fragmentation everywhere.
HTML5 apps are the future, but HTML5 hybrid apps are how we are going to get there as users are used to getting apps from the app store and certain native UI elements on each device. If they take off then we should also see native app development for iOS start to wane as well in the not-to-distant future.
[via The Register]