Developers Dis Android: Fragmentation Isn’t Only Problem

April 5, 2011 - Written By Maddi Hausmann Sojourner

Baird Research Finds Developers Have Many Issues with Android OS

William Power, a research analyst at Baird Research, has surveyed a few (250) developers, and his conclusions are not good news for us Android fans.  The research report isn’t available online, as it’s no doubt something very expensive they would be delighted to sell at a few thousand a pop.   Fortune shared some highlights (and lowlights) which we pass on to you.  There is a bit of good news for the Android OS in there, it’s just that most of the press is focusing on the bad.

First, of the universe of developers in the survey, 71% of them are writing apps for Android, as opposed to 62% for iOS, and nothing over 27% for other operating systems.  Unfortunately, that’s all the data Fortune shared about that item, so we don’t know if that means most of those developers wrote one Android app that was a port from something else, or if most of them are regularly doing the Dalvik disco.

Pulling the Splinters from the Android Fragments

Let’s continue with the fragmentation issue, because it’s usually the first criticism other OS proponents bring up about the little green robot.  Android has different versions running on different devices.  Google releases new versions every six months or so, but many of the manufacturers or carriers take their time sending out updates for their devices, or don’t even bother.  Plus there’s the added-on UIs, or skins, that manufacturers pile on top of the OS, differentiating their product but possibly leading to further software incompatabilities.

A majority of the developers surveyed said that fragmentation over the different devices was a “meaningful” (33%) or “huge” (24%) problem.  What’s worse, this percentage actually increased over three months.  (Again, that’s according to Fortune, as we don’t know the survey methodology.  No other information was given that had a different answer three months later.  Did they take 3 months to collect 250 developers’ insights?  We don’t know.)

Just for a sanity check here, very few devices are still running Android OS 1.5 or 1.6.  But with the release of Android OS 3.0 (Honeycomb), which is optimized for tablets, the fragmentation issue is much more on developers’ minds.  Apps written for Android 1.x or 2.x don’t look that great on a tablet and can’t take advantage of the navigation features of Honeycomb.

Want more useful data like this, complete with pretty pie charts?  Too bad.  From this point on, the Fortune article gets a lot less exact.

Market Fragmentation isn’t Market Share, It’s Software Purchase Site

There are other kinds of fragmentation other than different OS versions over the range of devices.  Have you ever heard of store fragmentation?  There’s more than one place for a developer to place an Android app besides Google’s Android Market.  Amazon just introduced their Appstore, but with GetJar and AppBrain and several others, keeping track of them all or deciding where to position your app to get noticed makes things a bit more complex than the one-stop-only iOS App Store.  “Generally developers seem to prefer a unified, single store experience like Apple’s App Store,” according to Power’s report.

Now we’ve reported on another kind of fragmentation that isn’t mentioned here: hardware fragmentation.  When the same device is being sold with different chipsets or displays, what’s going to happen?  Want to find out?  Buy yourself a Samsung Galaxy S II. Samsung seems to be doing something different than the other manufacturers, as the sheer number of apps that don’t work on the Galaxy S line suggest something was implemented differently.

Other Developer Commentary isn’t High on Android

It isn’t just iOS and Android out there, of course.  For Ease of Development, developers still give the nod to iOS, with Android rated second easiest.  Much more difficult, according to those surveyed is RIM’s BlackBerry OS or Nokia’s about-to-be-abandoned Symbian.

As far as visibility goes, iOS gets the nod as well.  “iOS continues to lead, followed by Blackberry, with Android still receiving poor marks in this category.”  Fortune notes that developers complained about “junk apps” gumming up mind and market share.

And bottom line is how easily developers get paid.  Once more the survey gives higher marks iOS and then BlackBerry.  Numbers not provided, alas.

So is Android really “a mess”?

Fortune’s headline for this story was not kind: “Android is a mess, say developers.”  For an OS that’s “a mess,” it’s certainly the popular choice among the 250 developers in the survey.  Given that Google is asking manufacturers to stop customizing the OS (and now limiting access to the newest version), perhaps some of these issues will be dealt with while developers are still willing to write apps for the platform.

We’re having to take Fortune’s word that the report was so negative.  We don’t even know how many issues were covered in it, what was left out, what was simplified.  We don’t know if the four operating systems mentioned above were the only choices given (Symbian was only mentioned once); where’s Windows Phone 7?  Where’s PalmOS?  We don’t know how the developer base was chosen for the survey, and how self-selected it was.  If we can get more of this report, we’ll be following up on this story.

What do you think?  Is Android as much of a mess as Fortune suggests?  Let us know.

Source: Fortune