Mobile Developers Flocking to Tablets in Wake of iPad’s Launch, Survey Shows

If mobile software developers were reserving judgment about tablet computers as a platform for new apps and services, the events of the last three months—principally, of course, the advent of the iPad—seem to have changed their minds. Developers are stampeding to tablets now, and it’s about more than just the iPad.

Mountain View, CA-based Appcelerator found that that an overwhelming number of developers, 84 percent of those responding to a survey last week, are very interested in creating apps for the iPad. That’s a big step up from just 53 percent who said the same thing in Appcelerator’s last survey in March (before the iPad’s release). A large group, 62 percent, said that they were also very interested in developing for the coming batch of Android-powered tablets. The findings are based on responses Appcelerator received this month from its quarterly survey of more than 50,000 developers, some 2,700 of whom responded.

The survey results, which the company shared yesterday, also revealed that the competing mobile platforms are in an increasingly desperate struggle against Android and iOS (the iPhone/iPad operating system) for developer mindshare. Only about one-third (34 percent) of developers responding to the survey said they were very interested in building apps for BlackBerry smartphones; 27 percent were very interested in Windows Phone 7, 15 percent in Symbian, 13 percent in Palm/Web OS, 11 percent in MeeGo (a mobile version of Linux promoted by Intel and Nokia), and 6 percent in Amazon’s Kindle.

“It’s really an Apple and Google chess game now, while everyone else plays catch-up,” says Scott Shwarzhoff, vice president of marketing at Appcelerator.

The three-year-old startup, which was founded in Atlanta but moved to the Bay Area soon after, helps Web-focused developers adapt their software for mobile platforms. Using Titanium, an open-source set of application programming interfaces created by Appcelerator, programmers who are versed in Web languages like JavaScript or PHP can more easily build native mobile applications that run on iPhones, iPads, or Android devices.

Every three months since January, Appcelerator has surveyed programmers who use its services to find out what mobile platforms developers are most excited about, and therefore which platforms Appcelerator itself should be supporting.

When Appcelerator first asked its users whether they were interested in writing software for the iPad, back in January, 58 percent said yes. That number fell 5 percentage points in March, but now that developers have had some time to see and play with the iPad, it has jumped by 31 points.

“As an early indicator of the health of the iPad ecosystem, I think this is a very strong showing,” says Schwarzhoff.

So why did it interest in the iPad tail off between January and March, and why weren’t more developers interested from the beginning?

“I think it’s a whole combination of factors,” says Schwarzhoff. “Unlike the iPhone, which was just improving upon previous phones, the iPad is a brand new category, so the category is being proven along with the device. Also, developers previously had priorities that were all phone-related—they had to get their iPhone and Android apps out, and there was enough work to do there. But now you see a lot of the pieces starting to line up, in terms of the publishers lining up, the unit shipments falling into place. You also see developers looking at the initial developers who took that first stab at the iPad and struck gold.They want to be fast followers.”

And the excitement isn’t just about the iPad. It’s really a broader phenomenon that extends to the whole concept of tablet-style, touch-driven mobile computers, including Android tablets.

iPad-like devices powered by Google’s open-source Android operating system have already been released by Archos and RAmos, and other companies such as Dell, Motorola, and NEC are expected to bring their own Android tablets to market later this year. While 89 percent of Appcelerator’s respondents said that Apple’s iOS platform has the best app store and commerce capabilities and 85 percent said it has biggest market for consumer and business apps, Android was the winner when Appcelerator asked which mobile operating system has “the best long-term outlook.” (54 percent chose Android, compared to 40 percent for iOS.)

“It’s a really interesting mix,” says Schwarzhoff. “Where iOS comes out strong is in e-commerce, discoverability of apps, consumer apps, business aps, and near-term outlook, while Android wins at the operating system level, the openness of the platform, and the long-term outlook.”

It’s not clear from Appcelerator’s survey what tactics developers think makers of Android devices—a notoriously fragmented group—might employ to catch up with Apple. But more than two-thirds of respondents (69 percent) said that Android’s greatest strength in the future would be its adaptability, “from tablets to e-readers to set-top boxes.”

“On the negative side,” Appcelerator’s report on the survey continued, “Apple’s biggest strength is also its biggest weakness—the control of how its operating system is used and that all roads must go through the app store and ultimately Apple. Google’s downside is the risk of an open ecosystem: fragmentation and loss of control with all the permutations possible with Android.”

Schwarzhoff says the survey results, only a few highlights of which were released publicly, will help Appcelerator set its own priorities as it builds new products to help developers. “We’re going to be rolling out a lot of interesting modules that go on top of our platform, and that all comes from the survey findings,” he says. “That feedback, in such a fast growing industry, is really important.”

Wade Roush is the producer and host of the podcast Soonish and a contributing editor at Xconomy. Follow @soonishpodcast

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