November 30, 2009
Android devices have quickly been embraced by hundreds of thousands of smartphone users, but Google's answer to Apple's iPhone is decidedly not getting the same reaction from application developers, according to a survey of a group of 30 influential application developers.
Skyhook Wireless, whose location technology is used by developers to provide pinpoint navigation in their applications, found a general dissatisfaction with the Android platform. "We began hearing anecdotally of developers having problems," said Kate Imbach, Skyhook's marketing VP, in an interview Monday. "They were complaining that their apps were getting buried. Now many are pausing their Android work and going back to work on the iPhone." Skyhook polled developers on their experience with the Android platform. The firm found that developers are frustrated with low download volumes, poor marketplace design, and concern over consumers' difficulties in using Google Checkout to purchase apps. A full 57% of the developers were unhappy with their Android apps profits, with just 4% saying they were "very satisfied" with their profits. Asked whether the design of the Android Marketplace was helpful, 82% said the design makes it difficult for their apps to be noticed. In addition, download volume has been low, with less than 10% of the developers reporting more than 10,000 downloads of an individual application. The survey also found developers anxious about their future with Android phones because with a growing proliferation of new Android phones hitting the market, they worry they'll be spread too thin trying to address each phone. Many developers compared their experience with the iPhone. For instance, Imbach noted that the iPhone has a uniform and coherent design with one screen size versus many for Android devices. One of the biggest problems with Android in the eyes of developers is its lack of an effective consumer billing system. "Google Checkout isn't widely used," said Imbach. "Operator billing, for instance, would help." She compared Google Checkout with the iPhone's iTunes billing, which is "intuitive" for many users. Developers have begun to express their complaints. "Rather than creating opportunity, (Android's) platform divergence has just created further problems," said James Grafton, developer of Andoid apps including Pic Swap and Get Me Home. "We simply can't afford to test across all Android phones." Larva Labs, a developer of mobile entertainment apps, recently noted that Android apps have experienced anemic sales compared with the iPhone. Skyhook is committed to offering its technology to Android developers and Imbach has high praise for the Google phone. The location company's technology is already included in some 25 Android apps, but that's a far cry from the more than 2,500 iPhone apps that utilize Skyhook's GPS cell phone tower/Wi-Fi triangulation location technology. "This report," says Imbach of the developers' survey, "shows that although Android developers are excited about the future of Android, the platform may face significant challenges if it does not soon improve monetization options and take steps to protect against the risk of fragmentation."
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