Interest in HTML5 growing among mobile developers

Apple's iOS continues to dominate, while Android and RIM OS flounders

Mobile developers will increasingly use HTML5 in their applications during 2012, but fragmentation will make their life more difficult, according to a joint survey from IDC and cross-platform development vendor Appcelerator.

Seventy-nine percent of mobile developers report they will integrate HTML5 in their apps this year, according to the survey, which queried 2,173 developers between Jan. 25 and Jan. 27. That is much higher than many industry observers had anticipated as late as the fourth quarter, according to the two companies.

"That was a really interesting find for us," said Mike King, principal mobile strategist at Appcelerator.

Developer plans include both pure HTML5 apps and so-called hybrid apps, which are native applications that use HTML5 from some parts, according to King.

HTML5 is still a work in progress, and fragmentation poses a challenge for developers.

"It is absolutely a problem," said King.

Appcelerator keeps track of how HTML5 is implemented on browsers that visit its Web site, and comparing a large number of variables, there is a 20 percent to 30 percent difference in how different browsers consume content.

Part of the reason why there is a big difference between browsers is that there isn't a ratified standard, according to King.

Apple is still the most popular platform among developers. Eighty-nine percent of respondents say they are very interested in developing for the iPhone, followed by the iPad, at 88 percent.

At the same time, Android is struggling. This quarter, the number of developers who are very interested in Android-based smartphones dropped to 79 percent and to 66 percent for tablets. A year earlier those figures were 87 percent and 74 percent.

King blames fragmentation for the waning developer interest in Android.

"Developers feel they don't have a single platform to write to, a single monetization model or one market place that they can utilize," he said.

Google is aiming for Android 4.0 to help decrease fragmentation, but at the time of the survey, the Galaxy Nexus was the only new phone to come with the OS. Since then, new tablets and smartphones have been announced. Also, vendors like HTC and Samsung Electronics have started to roll out upgrades for existing phones.

"[Android 4.0] is supposed to reduce fragmentation, but developers are very much taking a wait-and-see approach," said King.

Google could improve the OS' standing among developers by speeding up upgrades and curtailing some of the platform fragmentation with best practices, according to King.

"It is going to be an interesting line for them to walk, because with the acquisition of Motorola Mobility the company has an opportunity to drive best-of-breed practices. But at the same time, if Motorola is given a leg-up over the competition, then it is going to be very difficult for Google to continue to entice them to build compelling hardware," said King.

But Android's decrease is nothing compared to the drop in interest for Research In Motion's BlackBerry phones. A year ago 38 percent of developers were very interested in developing apps for the RIM OS, but this year the share was just 16 percent. Also, the interest in working on RIM's PlayBook has dropped from 28 percent to only 11 percent, according to the survey.

RIM's struggles means that Windows Phone is now the third most popular smartphone OS among developers, and is holding steady at 37 percent in interest level among developers.

Developers continue to think that the partnership between Microsoft and Nokia is a good thing, but now they need to sell more phones, according to King.

Send news tips and comments to mikael_ricknas@idg.com

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Mikael Ricknäs

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