Apple's iOS remains top draw for devs, but interest in Fire 'remarkable,'says pollster

New survey shows developers see Amazons low-priced tablet as an app money maker

Although developer enthusiasm for Apple's iOS remains strong, app programmers are extremely interested in Amazon's Kindle Fire tablet as it hits the racks, a new survey said.

Appcelerator, a maker of cross-platform development tools, and research firm IDC polled more than 2100 developers earlier this month to find that they still rank iOS - the operating system that powers the iPhone and iPad - as the top market for their work.

Ninety-one percent of the developers surveyed said they were "very interested" in creating apps for the iPhone, while 88% said the same for the iPad, numbers that have changed little for a year or more in Appecelerator's tracking.

The numbers for Android phones and tablets trail the iPhone and iPad by eight and 20 points, respectively.

But the most recent survey found new interest in Amazon's Kindle Fire and a renewed, if weaker, focus on Microsoft's Windows Phone 7.

"Basically, half of the developers in North America say they're very interested in the Kindle Fire," said Scott Schwarzhoff, vice president of marketing at the Mountain View, Calif.-based Appcelerator. "That's remarkable for a new device, and about the same level of interest as for the iPad just before its launch."

In a survey conducted in March 2010, just weeks before Apple kicked off first-generation iPad sales, 53% of developers acknowledged that they were very interested in creating apps for the tablet.

Amongst Android-powered tablets - Amazon's Kindle Fire uses a modified version of Google's operating system - only the Samsung Galaxy Tab garnered more votes, said Schwarzhoff.

Developers were especially impressed with the Fire's low price of $199, less than half that of the lowest-cost iPad, and the fact that Amazon had a ready-to-go content collection of books, music and other goods to sell to Fire owners.

Price has been a Holy Grail for developers, who see a direct correlation between the cost of a device and the potential pool of buyers for their apps. Last January, for example, developers picked price as the number one factor crucial to Android tablets' success.

But the inability by most Apple rivals to undercut the iPad soured some developers on Android earlier this year. Now, the price of the Fire has reenergized them.

"This entire year, Android has been going head-to-head with iPad at a $500 price point," said Schwarzhoff. "But now in comes a new device that is cheap and competing in a very different way..., not on screen size, but competing on content. It's no surprise that it's getting a very strong positive reaction from developers."

Success isn't guaranteed, of course, Schwarzhoff said, noting that Amazon will have to demonstrate that its customers are willing to buy apps before developers would really rush into the market.

Apple's iOS remains the top platform for mobile app developers, with 91% saying their very interested in creating for the iPhone.

Developers foresee other problems with the Fire as well, ranging from the lack of services - including the usual Google services, like maps, that stock Android devices - as well as features such as a camera.

Those missing elements and Amazon's customization of Android combined to make developers nervous, said Schwarzhoff, because it will force them to craft yet another version of their apps for the Fire.

"Fragmentation once again rears its ugly head," said Schwarzhoff, citing the 32% of polled developers who put fragmentation at the forefront of their Fire concerns. "Amazon co-opted the Android OS for its own purposes, so this is not your father's Android."

On the plus side is Amazon's track record of selling stuff to its customers.

"The Amazon audience is different than the usual for Android, they're used to paying for content," Schwarzhoff pointed out. "They have a 100-plus million pool of people used to paying for things."

Monetizing their work has been a problem for many Android developers, who suspect that the operating systems' users are a lot less likely to pay for apps than, say, iPhone and iPad owners.

But the Fire may be the exception to that rule.

"This paints a picture that's twice as attractive to developers, because it's a low-priced device from a company where a lot of people are purchasing content," said Schwarzhoff. "It's very Apple-esque, actually."

The survey also showed that developer interest in Microsoft's Windows Phone 7 platform is up - 38 per cent of those polled said they were very interested, an increase from last summer's 30 per cent - although there the bet is on the future, not the present.

"These developers are looking further out, not at the here and now," said Schwarzhoff, because they're figuring future moves will make the platform viable. Forty-two percent of European developers named the Nokia-Microsoft partnership as their No. 1 reason for interest in Windows Phone, while North American developers cited Windows 8's potential on tablets as their top factor.

"Nokia will have to show that the Lumia did well this holiday season," said Schwarzhoff, referring to the recent launch of the Windows Phone 7 devices that will take on the iPhone and Android smartphones.

Appcelerator and IDC have published an abridged version of their survey results on the former's website. A complete copy can be downloaded after registering with Appcelerator.

Gregg Keizer covers Microsoft, security issues, Apple, Web browsers and general technology breaking news for Computerworld. Follow Gregg on Twitter at @gkeizer , on Google+ or subscribe to Gregg's RSS feed . His e-mail address is gkeizer@computerworld.com .

See more articles by Gregg Keizer .

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