App Developers Not Happy With Android

With dozens of Android-based smartphones likely to be sold by global brands such as Samsung, Sony Ericsson, Dell (s dell) and Motorola (s mot), it’s no surprise that 2010 is shaping up to be a big year for Google’s (s GOOG) 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.

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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.