Survey: Android programmers shifting toward Web apps

Difficulties coding for Google's mobile OS are pushing programmers toward Web apps instead, an Appcelerator survey finds. But Google+ has lots of traction.

Appcelerator's first-quarter survey shows iOS solidly in the lead when it comes to developers' interest.
Appcelerator's first-quarter survey shows iOS solidly in the lead when it comes to developers' interest. (Click to enlarge.) Appcelerator/IDC

Android is gradually slipping down mobile programmers' priority list, with Web apps stepping in to as an answer to development difficulties, a survey released today concludes.

Appcelerator, maker of cross-platform programming tools used by 280,000 programmers to create 35,000 apps, tallied the changes in its quarterly survey. In it, the number of programmers who said they were "very interested" in programming for Android phones declined for a second quarter in a row, this time from about 83.3 percent to 78.6 percent. Android tablet interest also continued a decline for a second quarter, from about 68.1 percent to 65.9 percent.

Apple's iOS kept its spot at the top, slipping from 91 percent to 89 percent for iPhones and staying level at about 88 percent for iPads.

"What we've seen in last year is falloff in interest in Android," said Mike King, Appcelerator's principal mobile strategist. Why? Fragmentation, he said:

Our thought is a lot of developers are unhappy with the fragmentation of the platform as well as the fragmentation of the monetization platform. Those things make it very difficult if you're a developer to make money on Android. It's the versions of the OS and the devices themselves--screen size, feature sizes, even skins that device manufacturers have put on top of that...

It's a tough line for them to walk. They want to have an open OS, but openness means they're going to have fragmentation.

Google can take heart that it's still well ahead of the next-place operating system, Microsoft's Windows Phone, down at about 37 percent. Research In Motion's BlackBerry OS for phones is continuing a years-long slide and now is at about 16 percent.

Appcelerator's quarterly surveys show that, although Android suffered recent declines, it's still well ahead of many competing mobile operating systems.
Appcelerator's quarterly surveys show that, although Android suffered recent declines, it's still well ahead of many competing mobile operating systems. Appcelerator/IDC

Apparently Web applications--those built with technologies such as HTML, CSS, and JavaScript that run using a browser engine--answer at least some of Google's fragmentation challenges. Web apps rose slightly to 67 percent, passing Android tablets in the last quarter.

"That's the response to fragmentation," King said.

Appcelerator asked if HTML5 was going to be a component of people's apps in 2012, and 79 percent it was. But only 6 percent plan to make all-out Web app that runs in a browser; a much larger 72 percent plan a hybrid approach that wraps native interface elements around an app that relies on a browser engine behind the scenes.

"A hybrid has some native code on device, but content will be delivered via HTML," King said. "Google Maps is a good example."

Google might be disappointed to hear of Android's waning fortunes, but it's also got a major Web app push, especially for personal computers running its Chrome browser and Chromebooks running its Chrome OS. Right now Android uses an unbranded Google browser, but Google has introduced a version of Chrome for Android that eventually will serve as the back-end engine for hybrid apps.

A plus for Google+
Google also can take consolation in good news for its social-networking effort Google+ from the survey. Though it trails Facebook in users and usage, it's got high developer interest, King said.

Developers plan to use a lot of Web technologies in their mobile apps--but usually in a hybrid approach that combines them with native app technology.
Developers plan to use a lot of Web technologies in their mobile apps--but usually in a hybrid approach that combines them with native app technology. Appcelerator/IDC

Asked to whether Facebook's social graph or "the network effect of Google's assets" would play a bigger role in a company's social strategy, 61 percent said Facebook and 39 percent said Google, King said.

That's impressive for Google, he added. "Given Facebook's massive advantage in terms of users and the power of the site, you'd expect it to be like ten to one," King said.

The Google services are broader than just the service for posting and commenting at Google+; Google is integrating that into other online properties, and the survey deliberately focused on the broader effort.

"I think it's a misstep by Facebook," King said. Google's advantage came from "the education and engagement Google has done with those developers."

Appcelerator's findings on why Google+ competes with Facebook for developer interest.
Appcelerator's findings on why Google+ competes with Facebook for developer interest. Appcelerator/IDC
 

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