A recently released survey of 2,760 mobile application developers reveals challenges for Google, Microsoft and RIM around fragmentation and access to developer time and mindshare.

The survey was conducted in early April 2011 by research firm IDC, and Appcelerator, a mobile development platform provider for building cross-mobile platform applications using HTML, CSS, JavaScript, PHP, Python and Ruby. Appcelerator claims 1.5 million developers and over 20,000 applications built with its open source products.

Not surprisingly, Apple and Android phones and tablets occupy the top four spots in terms of developer interest in developing for a certain platform. There’s over a 40 percent gap between the two leaders and everyone else, including RIM, Microsoft and HP’s respective mobile platforms.

Android’s challenges with fragmentation
The survey gets interesting when developers discuss their concerns with Android. Fragmentation is overwhelming the number one concern.

A feature/function comparison versus Apple’s iOS or ability to make more money from Apple’s ecosystem are at the bottom of the Android concerns list.

IDC and Appcelerator also point out that there appears to be significant gap between interest in Android as a tablet OS and tablets that support Android.

On the software side, 71% respondents are “very interested” in the Android OS, but on the hardware side, only 52% are very interested in developing applications for the Samsung Galaxy tab. This drops to 44% for Motorola Xoom, the first Android tablet with Android’s Honeycomb OS.

This is somewhat surprising considering the relatively strong hardware specifications, especially compared to the likes of Apple’s iPad 2, that Android tablets offer. However, fragmentation concerns may be a root cause to the lack of interest in having to test with and support the various Android tablet offerings.

One can see why Google is working hard to reduce fragmentation, even if it allows outsiders call Google’s open source credentials into question.

RIM and Microsoft’s race for relevance
When asked if any other platform can catch up to Apple or Google, 62 percent of respondents said “no”.

Digging deeper, the respondents are more interested in the Microsoft & Nokia partnership versus announcements from RIM or HP surrounding their respective mobile platforms. Respondents felt that the Microsoft and Nokia partnership could position Microsoft as a more serious competitor to Apple and Google.

However, even amongst this group, when asked what poses the biggest risk to the success of Microsoft’s mobile platform, 46 percent answered, “not enough time”. The only higher ranking risk was a perception that Google and Apple are just too far ahead.

What’s troubling is that Appcelerator helps developers build native, cross-device mobile applications from a single code base for iOS, Android, and Blackberry.

These developers can’t find the time to target anything other than iOS and Android, even with a tool that addresses multi-platform support from a single code base.

These developers are saying that the marginal cost of tailoring the single code base application for RIM or Microsoft platforms is outweighed by the value of delivering the next feature for iOS and Android users of their application.

I would have expected these responses from developers tasked with building for multiple mobile platforms without the benefit of a cross-device framework or tool like Appcenerator offers.

RIM, Microsoft and others hoping to catch Apple and Google, need to dig deeper into these results and determine what can be done to keep developers interested in building for their mobile platforms.

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