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Google's Android has nearly caught up with Apple iOS as the favorite platform for developers building mobile applications for smartphones, a survey shows.
In addition, Android is closing the lead iOS has in the tablet market, while developer interest in Microsoft and Research In Motion's smartphone platforms are showing solid gains as a result of recent updates, according to a study released Tuesday by IDC and Appcelerator, a maker of mobile app developer tools.
The survey of more than 2,200 developers conducted this month found that the days of experimentation are over, with developers planning to nearly triple the number of apps made last year. Developers on average are building software for four different devices.
The study found a dramatic increase in the integration of geo-location, social, and cloud connectivity services, an indication of a new focus on keeping users in the apps longer. Developers in increasing numbers are planning to integrate advertising and in-app purchase business models, showing they are serious about making money in the long term.
Android came within five points of the reigning iPhone, with 87% of developers saying they were "very interested" in releasing apps for Google's OS versus 92% for the iPhone. The latter still had the upper hand, as the common refrain among developers was: "after the iPhone, do I go Android or iPad?" the study found. Apple this month crossed 10 billion downloads from its App Store for the iPhone and iPad.
Windows Phone 7 also did well in the survey, despite trailing Android and iOS. The number of developers very interested in Microsoft's smartphone OS jumped 8 points to 36%, with developers citing the improved user interface as the critical factor for the increase.
On the tablet front, the iPad gained 3 points among developers, with 87% very interested in the platform. With iPad 2 expected this year, developers offered a wish list of new camera capabilities, a USB connector, and a retina display like the iPhone.
Android tablet interest rose an impressive 12 points since the last survey to 74%. Sparking the rising interest was the 85 new tablets introduced at the Consumer Electronics Show early this month, with most of them running Android.
Developers also showed interest in Research In Motion's BlackBerry Playbook, which saw its standing among very interested developers jump from 16% to 28%. Interest in the upcoming WebOS tablet from Hewlett-Packard remained flat at 16%.
The hot tablet and smartphone markets did nothing to help software platforms for Internet-connected TVs. Interest in Google TV fell 11 points to 33%, while Apple iTV interest dropped 10 points to 30%. Developer interest in alternatives like Yahoo TV, Boxee, and Roku was minimal.
Among online markets for Android devices, Amazon.com's Appstore showed promise, with 37% of developers very interested in selling apps through the online store. The Android Market continued to lead by a wide margin with 82%, while Verizon VCAST had 13% and GetJar 9%.
In last year's survey, 43% of developers said they were in the "exploring" phase of their moble app strategy. This year, 55% said they were shifting into a more serious phase, with respondents on average planning to build 6.5 apps this year, an increase of 183%. Respondents on average planned to deploy apps on at least four different devices, up two-fold from 2010.
The survey also showed that developers were shifting away from free apps and 99-cent sales to models such as in-app purchasing and advertising, with mobile commerce on the horizon.