Android's fragmentation and Microsoft's and RIM's battle for relevance

Mobile developer study reveals challenges for Google, Microsoft, and RIM in their efforts to topple Apple's mobile supremacy

A recent survey of 2,760 mobile application developers using Appcelerator's cross-platform development environment reveals challenges for Google around fragmentation and for Research in Motion, Microsoft, and Hewlett-Packard around access to developer time and mind share.

Not surprisingly, Apple iOS and Google Android phones and tablets occupy the top four spots in terms of interest in developing for a specific platform. There's more than a 40 percent gap between the two leaders and everyone else, including RIM's BlackBerry, Microsoft's Windows Phone, and HP's WebOS mobile platforms. The survey was conducted April 11-13 by research firm IDC on behalf of Appcelerator.

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Android's challenges with fragmentation

The survey gets interesting when developers cite their concerns with Android. Fragmentation -- the variations in Android devices themselves, the multiple OS versions in the market, and the multiple user interace overlays deployed -- is overwhelmingly the top issue.

At the bottom of developers' Android concerns are feature/function comparisons versus Apple's iOS (the very comparisons that the hardware makers, ironically, try to push) and the ability to make more money from Apple's ecosystem.

The survey also points out that developers are very interested in developing for Android tablets but not for the actual Android tablets on the market:

On the software side, 71 percent respondents are "very interested" in the Android OS, but on the hardware side, only 52 percent are very interested in developing applications for the Samsung Galaxy Tab. This drops to 44 percent for Motorola Xoom, the first Android tablet with Android's [tablet-specific] "Honeycomb" 3.0 OS.

This unenthusiastic view of the Android tablets is surprising, considering their relatively strong hardware specifications, especially compared to the likes of Apple's iPad 2, that the current Android tablets offer. However, fragmentation may be a root cause of the lack of interest, as developers may not want to test and support the various Android tablet offerings. You can see why Google is working hard to reduce fragmentation, even if it allows outsiders to call Google's open source credentials into question.

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