Autodesk (s adsk) believes Android (s goog) has grown to become a viable opportunity, enough so that it is bringing a version of its popular drawing app, SketchBook Mobile, to the platform. Autodesk, which makes powerful 2-D and 3-D design software, has a hit with SketchBook Mobile for the iPhone (s aapl) and iPad, recording 2.2 million downloads since first launching in September of last year. The company was waiting to see if Android would attract a vibrant user community before pulling the trigger on its first Android app, something the company says it now sees. “We’ve been keeping an eye on all the smartphone platforms, but Android stuck out; we were getting a lot of customer feedback from people requesting that we support Android,” said Chris Cheung, project manager for SketchBook Mobile during an interview last week.
Autodesk will offer both free and paid versions ($2.99 for the Pro version) of SketchBook Mobile. The apps will only work on Android 2.1 or higher, which leaves out the small but significant number of users still clinging to older versions of Android. Cheung said SketchBook Mobile for Android took six months to build and will be familiar to iOS users, though with some different elements mapped to the buttons on Android devices. Cheung said the decision to support Android was driven not only by customer demand, but also by a distinct absence of top-notch sketching apps in the Android Market. He said Android offers less competition for a company like Autodesk than iOS.
This is another sign that the Android platform is becoming a target for big-name developers. I recently talked about how Zynga, Twitter, Facebook and StumbleUpon were focusing more efforts on Android, giving the platform the kind of support that iOS has long had. There’s still a way to go for Android to become the primary target for developers, but established companies are sensing now is the time to get on board with Android. The user base is there, thanks to some breakneck growth. In many cases, Android Market is still ripe for the picking for larger companies, who don’t face the same high-quality competition you see the App Store.
Given the popularity of free apps in the Android Market, it will be interesting to see Autodesk’s breakdown between paid and free downloads of its new app; Cheung said about a quarter of SketchBook Mobile’s downloads on iOS are paid. With Android users’ tendency to choose free over paid apps, I don’t expect Android to match the iOS paid figure right away, but it would be good to see Autodesk get a significant number of paid downloads, because it’s a quality app that deserves it.
That will be the test for Android. It’s not enough to just attract big-name developers to Android; they have to see good money-making opportunities to keep building Android apps. Mobile advertising and in-app purchases are becoming solid ways to make money, but for companies like Autodesk, which rely on getting users to buy the paid version, that’s still the model that matters the most right now.
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