With Android and iOS leading the market in applications, Microsoft and RIM are seeing comparatively tepid interest in third party development for their mobile platforms.
Android is currently leading the smartphone race with consumers and has a healthy application count in its marketplace with over 150,000 apps currently available. That still trails what Apple has in its App Store with over 350,000 apps. All other mobile app stores trail far behind these two market leaders and current development trends don't show that gap closing.
All isn't rosy for Android though. According to Appcelerator, the road is getting a bit rough for Android. AppCelerator conducted a survey of 2,760 developers that use its Titanium cross-platform development tools. "The survey reveals that developer momentum is shifting back toward Apple as fragmentation and tepid interest in current Android tablets chip away at Google's recent momentum gains."
The effects of fragmentation shouldn't be a surprise. You definitely cannot write an Android app and count on it running on all Android phones without tweaking it as the developers of Tweetdeck quickly found out.
The main beneficiary of these issues though appears to be Apple. Windows Phone and Blackberry both showed declines in developer interest compared to the fourth quarter of 2010. Windows Phone interest fell by seven percentage points to 29% and RIM fell by 11 percentage points to 27%. That means from a developer standpoint, RIM is now in fourth place.
The problem for Microsoft and RIM is even with Android's fragmentation issues and lackluster interest in Android tablets, when it comes to phones, developers simply cannot ignore the big kid on the block. Some 46% of those surveyed said they had their hands full with iOS and Android development.
That presents a "chicken or egg" problem for Microsoft. They have had phenomenal growth to this point, getting over 12,000 apps added to its store in about seven months. To get the explosive growth necessary to approach what iOS and Android have though, the platform needs more market share. To get market share today you need a solid application story.
Microsoft has a challenge ahead of it. It claims quality over quantity when discussing app counts, and that is a valid point. The problem is, when someone is looking at a phone and they see 350,000 apps, 150,000 apps or 12,000 apps, quantity carries a bit more weight to the average user. My guess is once Microsoft gets in the 50,000 to 75,000 range, numbers will become less important. Once you are that high, does anyone really care that a competitor has four times as many fart apps?
To get that high though, the development curve for Microsoft needs to accelerate or it will take two to three years to get there. That will hinder the platform's growth overall.
RIM faces a similar issue, but it is even more magnified. The current Blackberry platform already has its epitaph written as RIM promises to move to QNX. Developers will be hard pressed to make the case to develop for a platform with a short life and uncertainty around how well, if at all, emulation will work or whether an unlaunched platform will have any success at all. Being a big player in the market and releasing an all-new OS isn't a recipe for success. Just ask Palm.
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