Despite a growing number of handsets, the app store to go along with Google’s Android OS faces is getting a thumbs down from developers who complain about slow sales and low downloads, a survey says. Android can’t afford to lose developer attention who have other opportunities.

With dozens of Android-based smartphones likely to be sold by global brands such as Samsung, Sony Ericsson, Dell and Motorola, it’s no surprise that 2010 is shaping up to be a big year for Google’s upstart mobile OS. But increasing skepticism in the developer community over Android and its marketplace masks this good news, a survey reveals.

Skyhook Wireless, a Boston-based company that offers location-based information to businesses, recently polled 30 app developers and asked them about their experience with, and plans for, the Android platform. A survey of just 30 developers doesn’t have enough data for me to take this as gospel. That said, the results should be worrisome to Google and its hardware partners, because there seems to be a general dissatisfaction with the OS and, more importantly, its commercial potential. The results of the survey are also in sharp contrast to findings from other sources such as AdMob and Flurry, which have seen a sharp increase in the number of projects started by Android developers. Over 10,000 apps are available for Android devices.

totalandroiddownloads.pngThe biggest reason for disappointment is the low download numbers — about 90 percent of respondents say their apps have been downloaded fewer than 10,000 times.

Nearly 57 percent of the total polled said they were not satisfied with their profits on Android, while 39 percent said somewhat satisfied. Only 4 percent said they were satisfied with the profits they have made off their Android apps. On occasion we have heard from individual developers who have complained about the Android platform and lack of profits.

To give this some context, there weren’t too many Android handsets available in the market for the first three quarters of 2009. For the longest time there were only two T-Mobile Android phones (made by HTC) being sold. It is only this fall that the number of Android models has gone up, thanks to the introduction of Motorola’s Cliq (which was launched at our Mobilize 09 conference) and Droid. HTC, Samsung and Huawei also have introduced their new Android phones.

downloadandroid3.pngThe low download volumes and lack of profits speak to the fact that app discovery isn’t easy in the Android Marketplace. Having used Android Marketplace for many months now, I have to say the experience is sub-par. Eighty-two percent of those surveyed felt that the Android Marketplace’s design makes it difficult for apps to be noticed. As I pointed out earlier, special marketplaces being set up by phone companies is only going to muddy the waters.

downloadandroid2.pngAnother area of concern for developers: fragmentation that comes with multiple devices from various phone makers running on different carriers. Nearly 46 percent of developers surveyed were certain that different versions of Android would make development difficult.

I still think these are teething issues, and with time, Google and its partners will be able to fix them. The momentum behind Android is too strong. The question is how long it will take. More importantly, will the developers wait around that long, especially since there are other platforms that make money for them? Android’s backers can’t afford to lose developer attention.

Who & What’s to Blame for Developer Woes

  • Developers are concerned that Google Checkout contributes to their low download volumes.
  • 43 percent feel that they would sell more apps if Android used a carrier billing or another simpler billing system.
  • 82 percent of those surveyed feel that the design of the Android Marketplace makes it difficult for apps to be noticed.
  • 68 percent of those surveyed are somewhat or not likely to put further work into their apps, compared with when they first released their app.

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  1. The big question is, can Google/Android afford teething issues? Apple showed them the way very clearly and upped expectations, they could (should) have followed.

    1. I think the big issue here is how fast they can fix these issues. If I remember correctly, even Apple had some early issues but those got resolved and now have been replaced by other complaints.

      With more than 50 million + devices likely to ship in 2010, I bet it is lucrative enough base for developers to wait around. That said: if it takes too long: say more than six months, then Android has a problem. But that is just my opinion. I am sure you will disagree :-)

      1. How quickly? The Android Market Place is only about 3-4 months younger than the AppStore. 12,000 apps VS 120,000 apps?

        Android is far from the all roses we are trying to be led to believe it is. That said, I think Android will do very well as a platform and provide good income to many people; it still has some serious issue to overcome, however.

  2. Shyam Subramanyan Sunday, November 29, 2009

    With the iPhone, many users were already on board in terms of being billed for their purchases through iTunes. It was a quick sideways move to include apps along with tunes without any change required in user behavior. Google has never sold anything download-able directly to a typical consumer through Google Checkout and they do not have a desktop app like iTunes to leverage. It will be interesting to see how the Android marketplace evolves. One more thing – I just don’t trust carrier billing. They don’t get their own charges right.

  3. Justa Notherguy Sunday, November 29, 2009

    I swear, mobile developers complain about more things and do so more often than do French farmers. All that’s missing are the picket signs, flaming tire barricades and video of unplowed fields being drenched in unsold milk.

    All this angst, yet so little agreement on the root of their afflictions. It’s the Android Market! It’s the lack of a desktop market! It’s Google’s billing system! It’s the fragmentation! Chinese rice imports have depressed prices!

    This is not to suggest whinging is entirely unreasonable. Android’s technical growing pains and many iterations encourage a ‘wait-and-see’ attitude. Same goes for the earlier paucity of extant models & participating carriers.

    That said, soon as Android hits a certain point – let’s say 6-10 millions – even 2% downloads means real money. Enough to please everyone? Maybe not, but plenty for talented devs who listen to the users needs and respond with good code.

  4. Conclusion: App Developers have unrealistic expectations of a friction-less publishing and revenue generating channel, and WILL NEVER BE HAPPY.

    Apple, Google, and other should do what they think is best for their platforms. We can argue which approach, if either, is better. But can we stop amplifying the outrage of developers who want something no other developer has ever had?

  5. Found this to be a little too obvious!

    Thoughts here:


  6. I can certainly understand the low number of downloads and developer frustration, when there is still a number of countries where Paid apps don’t yet appear in the Market place on, in my case, an HTC Magic ..half a year after purchase!

    1. the limitations of Paid Market as to do with Google Checkout not being available every where

  7. Valley Bob – “But can we stop amplifying the outrage of developers who want something no other developer has ever had?”

    Good point.

  8. Misleading Article Heading? It should read that developers arnt happy with profits.

    “Nearly 57 percent of the total polled said they were not satisfied with their profits.”

    Aren’t we all?

  9. I have a bug report on the manufactures fragmentation, in case devs want to star it

    1. And the bug has already been closed as WorksAsIntended. It is becoming apparent that Google/Android doesn’t see the fragmentation issue as a problem or maybe just not their problem.

      1. I closed the bug because, as I said, this is not an actionable bug. For example: when would one close this bug as “fixed”? I can’t see how that would even make sense for this bug: when is “manufacturers should provide same identifiers” fixed? Never.

        Also, it wasn’t clear to me from the specific example that was being used in that bug, but my impression is that this is talking about identifiers that are NOT part of the SDK. If so, this is very much “working as intended” — if you step outside the bounds of the SDK, you have no guarantees about working anywhere. We try extremely hard to make the supported SDK very well defined and consistent across devices. It’s not perfect, and the cases that have come up where there are problems very much need to be fixed, but it is definitely a strong focus. For example, an Android device that ships with Market will have gone through tests that ensure ALL SDK symbols do in fact exist on the device.

        And so I also said in the bug — if there is a specific case of an API that is broken on a device, to file a specific bug for the API that clearly identifies the API in the SDK. Again, as the bug stands, this is not the case, and there is nothing that can be done with it.

        We do care a lot about the compatibility across Android devices. In fact some times I think we care more than many of our third party developers who, after repeated warnings, continue to use private APIs and do other things that we have clearly said will not be compatible. Sure, there have been some specific issues with some devices, but I am willing to bet that there have been just as many issues with developers doing things we have told them is not safe.

      2. Hi Dianne.
        I was the one who opened the bug, meant to be a generalist one, and a reference to all the manufactures/devs fragmentation.
        Inf act what led me to open it, was while talking to two other devs that make apps that I use on my Magic, being faced with several difficulties among the different devices, behaving differently, hence my practical example.
        But if you guys prefer a more passive action, and then handle case by case with each manufacture, instead of pro-actively preventing manufactures to define and make their own implementations of the OS, well, fine by me, as long as you do act on those, and not close them as “working as intended”.
        Cause if you do, you guys will be losing the community devs (sure not all are good coders).

      3. Let me try explaining again — there are already a lot of pro-active things done to reduce fragmentation, a small part being the check I mentioned to ensure all APIs exist.

        If you have ideas for other things to do, sure feel free to open a feature request describing them. If you really want to help, you can even contribute code (tests, whatever).

        But a bug that essentially is “prevent fragmentation from happening” is not useful to anyone. It is not actionable — there is nothing specifically that can be done in response to it, and thus as I said there is no measure to say when it is “fixed”. It clearly is a message bug. So okay, you sent the message. That has pretty much served its purpose, and there is nothing else to be done with it.

        And again, if you have concrete examples of APIs that are broken on certain devices, that is the exact kind of thing to file bugs for, with as detailed descriptions as possible to help them get resolved.

        And you still haven’t addressed the questions I raised about your original example, to please point to the specific official API that is broken and how it is not working. If I want to get cranky, when I look at this exchange — if you want to accuse people of not being pro-active, at this point you can certainly have that same accusation leveled back at you. But I assume you do want to help improve things (and keep them as good as they are, which honestly is not all that bad), as much as others do.

      4. Hi again Dianne.
        I have no intention in getting you, or anyone, cranky :p its enough to pick on JBQ. :p
        I’m just an user, an user that see from out side the box, but also an user that for several years has contributed to several FLOSS projects with all my good qualities and abilities, that usually circle around testing, bug filling, bug triaging, and user support.
        I’ll ask the developers that stated problems with the mention API breakage to file specific bugs on HW, and hope to talk to you again soon.

        Thanks for all your help in making Android all it can be. :D

  10. It is a matter of time. Android OS run devices are just starting to take off.

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