How much is fragmentation hurting Android?

Android

Too much -- that's the supposed takeaway from a survey of 2,700 developers conducted just two weeks ago. My interpretation is different: Not much at all, based on developer responses.

Sixty-three of respondents cited fragmentation as the major risk facing Android, while another 30 percent cited weak, early sales of tablets running Google's mobile OS. IDC conducted the survey with Appcelerator. I'm no fan of joint analyst-vendor surveys, because of conflict of interest (The obvious question is "Who paid?" for the survey). The registered symbol after Appcelerator's name is a dead giveaway about who approved the press release.

My takeaway from the top-line results differs from IDC. I don't see fragmentation as hurting Android much at all. Ninety-one percent of respondents are "very interested" in developing for iOS -- 86 percent for iPad. By comparison, 85 percent of developers are "very interested" in developing for Android and 71 percent for Android tablets. The Android numbers fell by two percent and three percent, respectively, from first quarter. Interest increased 12 percent during Q1. But as IDC notes, second quarter numbers are "technically within standard deviations."

These are huge numbers by any reasonable measure -- ninety-one percent to 85 percent and 86 percent to 71 percent. That 7 out of 10 developers are interested in Android tablets, when only one Honeycomb model is shipping (Motorola XOOM), demonstrates remarkably strong interest in Google's mobile OS. Given the smaller market opportunity and developer concerns about fragmentation, the number is remarkably high.

IDC's presentation of other numbers is very misleading. In context of that 71 percent, the analyst firm asserts that only 52 percent of developers are "very interested" in the Samsung Galaxy Tab, 44 percent in the Motorola XOOM and 31 percent in the HTC Flyer. "In short, the promise of an Android tablet is appealing, but the reality of currently, or soon-to-be, shipping devices is disappointing to developers," according to IDC.

"Disappointing to developers" is a huge inference to make based on interest in specific devices. There are two obvious flaws with the reasoning:

1. Developers' interest in specific devices doesn't mean "disappointing" interest in the platform. IDC already presents data that developers are very interested in Android and tablets running the OS.

2. Lower interest in specific devices compared to iPad or the Android platform shows nothing. It's like comparing developer interest in Dell, HP or Lenovo PCs with Macs. No one does that, recognizing the underlaying platform as being more important, so the comparisons are Windows PCs to Macs. Likewise, these Android tablets should be lumped together when comparing to iPad. There, "very interested is 86 percent to 71 percent, both relatively high.

"Android remains an exceptionally strong OS but the cumulative effect of unresolved issues with the Android ecosystem is taking a toll on developers," Scott Ellison, IDC's vice president of Mobile & Connected Consumer Platforms, says in a statement.

I reach a much different conclusion about what the data really means. Android is doing exceptionally well in the face of hardships. Meanwhile, IDC doesn't answer the more important question of "Why?" Why are developers so hot for iOS? Given iPad's huge popularity, why aren't even more developers "very interested?" Why are so many developers still "very interested" in Android, when they express concerns about fragmentation? Why are more developers interested in Galaxy Tab when XOOM ships with the most advanced Android version available?

There are other problems with the data -- at least as presented. Windows Phone 7 pushed ahead of Research in Motion's BlackBerry OS for developer interest (after declines of interest in both operating systems). OK, so exactly what is IDC measuring -- interest in tablets or mobile platforms? Because they can't be both as presented. Windows Phone 7 isn't available on tablets, and IDC has two classifications: Media tablets running so-called lightweight operating systems like Android and iOS and tablet PCs running full OSes like Windows. So platforms and device classifications are divided, which the survey doesn't seem to have properly address.

So let me ask you. If you're a mobile developer for any of these platforms, please tell the class where is the best opportunity for you? What platforms are you developing for and why? Please answer in comments.

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