By Philip Elmer-DeWitt
June 23, 2010

Apple’s iPad leads the way, but Android tablets are gaining fast, even before they exist

There’s lots to learn about where the next generation of third-party mobile apps are coming from in a survey published Wednesday by Appcelerator, maker of a popular Titanium cross-platform development tool that seems to have escaped the wrath of Steve Jobs.

The survey, conducted last week among 2,733 of its more than 51,000 customers, took a  deep look at how developers view the six major mobile platforms: Apple’s (AAPL) iOS, Google’s (GOOG) Android, Palm/HP’s (HPQ) webOS, Microsoft (MSFT) Phone 7, Nokia (NOK) Symbian/Meego and Research in Motion’s (RIMM) BlackBerry.

The bottom line, as the report puts it: “Apple and Google are now playing chess while everyone else plays catch up.”

The executive summary, in their words:

  • Interest in tablet application development has spiked since Apple’s iPad debut in April.  iPad jumped 26 points to 84% to rank number two behind iPhone.  Android Tablets, a new category, came in fourth at 62%, putting it ahead of all other non-Android / iOS platforms.  Developers even see HP’s potential for webOS tablets as Palm’s biggest opportunity.
  • When ranking platform potential, developers give the long-term edge to Google.   Developers favor Apple for its app store, market for consumer and business apps, devices, and near-term outlook.  However, Android comes out tops for its OS capabilities, platform openness, and long-term outlook.
  • While iOS and Android maintained a high level of interest, second tier platforms lost ground.  BlackBerry, Windows Phone 7, Palm webOS, Symbian, Meego, and Kindle all remained 30 points or more behind the leaders.
  • Call it the “enterprise mobile mandate”: large organizations are expressing even more interest in mobile than smaller ones.  For iOS, Android, Blackberry, and Windows Phone 7, interest from organizations with more than 1,000 employees was up to 80% higher than developers in smaller companies.
  • Porting applications across platforms is the number one developer pain.  When ranking eight stages in the development lifecycle, nearly one out of three developers says that cross-platform pain is the biggest issue facing application developers today.
  • Multitasking tops the list of iPhone 4 features.  Appcelerator’s web-connected developers see this as a critical new addition for utility, productivity, and business applications.

Below: Selected charts.

Note the 31% rise in interest in developing for the iPad and the 62% surge in interest in the Android tablet, a device that does not yet exist.

Although Apple wins the hearts of developers in everything that has to do with the App Store, 54% think Android has the best long-term outlook.

This question zeros in on Android’s Achilles heel: 31% of respondents said porting to multiple platforms is the biggest “pain point.” With some 60 different Android phones in the works, that’s got to hurt.

Although RIM can take some comfort in the fact that 60% of large organizations (more than 1,000 employees) are still developing for the BlackBerry, it must be troubling that those enterprise developers are even more interested in the stuff Apple and Google are doing.

Finally, although Apple and the early iPhone 4 reviewers are making a big deal about the device’s front-facing camera and FaceTime video calling service, developers are far more interested in the new multitasking feature.

[Follow Philip Elmer-DeWitt on Twitter @philiped]

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