Fragmented Android tablet market can still mean big money for devs

The Kindle Fire (s amzn) and Nook Color (s bks) are built to run on custom versions of Android, and their apps are essentially Android apps. (s goog) But that hasn’t stopped Ansca Mobile, which makes a cross-platform app development tool called Corona, from releasing a software development kit today that supports the Kindle Fire and Nook Color separately. With one SDK, Ansca is helping developers build once to cover the increasingly fragmented Android market.

Ansca is making the argument that it makes sense for developers to treat those devices as separate opportunities because each platform has sufficient differences, and each has substantial money-making potential. The company, which has helped developers make more than 6,000 mobile apps, is extending support beyond iOS (s aapl) and Android (s goog) to the Kindle Fire and Nook Color for all its paid Pro subscribers.

Ansca Mobile Co-Founder Walter Luh said differing hardware specifications, app review systems and app stores mean developers will already have to tweak their apps for each platform. For example, the Kindle Fire doesn’t come with GPS or a camera and can’t connect to native Google services like Gmail and Google Maps. Other things devs will have to tweak include adjusting Nook and Kindle Fire apps to use Barnes & Noble’s and Amazon’s own check-out systems for in-app purchases, plus submit their content to the respective retailers for editorial review.

Luh said leveraging the Corona SDK to hit iOS, Android, Kindle Fire and Nook Color not only simplifies the work developers need to do; it helps them take advantage of the potent selling opportunity on Kindle Fire and Nook Color devices. He said those devices are more like iPhones and iPads in their ability to get people to pay up for apps.

“Amazon and Barnes & Noble are forking [Android], and there will be slight differences that will be more manageable if you think of these devices as a different platform,” Luh said. “I think if you’re a developer trying to monetize, you’re going to be looking at iPhone and Amazon and possibly the Nook first because those are places where customers are proven to be willing to pay money.”

I wrote about the early results developers are seeing on the Kindle Fire, and it backs up Luh’s contention. Developers of paid apps do seem to be getting a boost because the Kindle Fire is purpose-driven to get people to buy things.

Developers appear to be taking note of the growing promise of the Kindle Fire especially and understand it’s a unique opportunity. An Appcelerator/IDC survey in November found 49 percent of developers in North America were very interested in developing for the Kindle Fire, ahead of the Galaxy Tab, the second highest scoring Android tablet. The initial interest in the Fire was  just four percentage points behind the iPad’s original interest scores from developers from a previous similar survey.

But the rise of the Kindle Fire and Nook Color raises the concern about fragmentation for developers and consumers. And it raises the question of how prominent these platforms can become as the primary way consumers discover and buy apps. They could become quasi gatekeepers for apps, an issue raised by Instapaper developer Marco Arment.

The issue will continue to evolve. I don’t think developers will stop developing for Android Market, because it’s still going to be the place to get the widest distribution. And cross-platform tools like Corona will ensure developers are able to put out Android Market versions of their apps, while still tweaking them for the big money-generating platforms. But the rise of the Kindle Fire and Nook Tablet, which could become the top two Android-based tablets, could have far-reaching impact, especially if developers not only treat them as separate platforms but perhaps prioritize them over Android Market at some point. It’s still early, but their initial success means they will increasingly be their own opportunities, something Ansca and many others will look to exploit.