Google Android developers are saying having three versions of the open source operating system -- Android 1.5, 1.6 and 2.0 -- kicking around is a problem. The disparate phones and their custom firmware are also issues.
But Android developers are unhappy for other reasons, according to a small survey taken by Skyhook Wireless in October: money, or the lack of it generated by writing Android apps for consumers to purchase.
The navigation software maker sampled 30 Android developers and found that 57 percent of developers said they are not satisfied with their profits on Android.
So 16 out of every 30 programmers are disgruntled about their Android apps earnings. That doesn't bode well for Android.
Of course, 30 people is so small a sample as to be almost negligible -- there are thousands of Android developers who have built more than 15,000 apps -- but if the trend holds true across the majority of apps makers, it's very disturbing.
Other highlights underscore a dim trend, with some more meaningful than others:
- 90% of developers reported individual app downloads of 10,000 or under on Android.
- 52% of Android developers' apps were downloaded fewer than 5,000 times.
- Developers are concerned that Google Checkout contributes to their low download volumes. 43% feel that they would sell more apps if Android used a carrier billing or another simpler billing system.
- 82% of those surveyed feel that the design of the Android Marketplace makes it difficult for apps to be noticed.
- 68% of those surveyed are somewhat or not likely to put further work into their apps, compared to when they first released their app.
What disturbs me here is the high number of developers who dislike the design of the Android Marketplace. This marketplace was just redesigned in early September!
"Often, apps will be released and quickly buried by other apps, and difficult to find again," Skyhook found.
Worse is the almost 70% of coders who don't want to keep iterating on the Android apps they do write. That's a recipe for disaster. Skyhook concluded:
"Today, developers are not generating real revenue via Android apps. This is the result of very low average download volumes, a poorly designed market, lack of an effective customer billing system, and the incapacity to serve ads. Due to these low profits, developers are becoming hesitant to invest more time and effort into apps that do not pay off....And now, anticipating the release of over 50 Android devices, many Android developers fear that fragmentation will squander the opportunity for widespread app distribution."
This sounds like more of the same. AdMob, which Google is buying for $750 million reported back in August -- before the launch of the Motorola Cliq, Sprint HTC Hero, Motorola Droid and HTC Droid Eris -- that Android developers were making peanuts compared to Apple's iPhone apps developers.
Google Android application developer Matt Hall from Larva Labs supported this theory and said it might be worse than anyone actually estimated.
I am at a loss as to what this means for the future of Android. On the one hand, Android phones are coming fast and furious -- there's about 15 smartphones, from the clunky G1 to the myTouch 3G and the solid Droid and Droid Eris.
On the other hand, if developers begin to throw in the towel on Android, Google might as well pack in the Android Market and just offer its own services, which are pretty darn good.
Indeed, Skyhook notes Android developers remain excited about the potential for the platform:
"These survey results are a snapshot of the current state of the market, and as more Android devices are released monetization options may improve. What these survey results show is that the Android platform faces serious challenges. In order to retain developer enthusiasm, Android must develop effective methods for app monetization. Otherwise, developers will lose interest in the platform, and focus their resources where they can best monetize their apps."
In other words, they may go where the big money is -- Apple's iPhone.