With Facebook's nearly 900 million users and over 425 million mobile users, it seems pretty clear that it would be the leader in social mobile development, right? Wrong. A new study from Appcelerator and the International Data Corporation (IDC) found that developers are more interested in Google than Facebook.
Do you prefer apps developed for Google platforms or for Facebook? Let us know in the comments.
Also read: Does Google Deserve to be Labeled Evil?
According to the report, 39 percent of the more than 2,000 mobile developers surveyed plan to focus more on Google initiatives than Facebook's social graph this year. The reason this number is so significant is due to the fact that Facebook dominates the marketplace in most metrics.
It's important to consider that developers have a very strong sway over the use of any platform. They are, after all, the ones creating the apps that you use. Think about how much Zynga has helped Facebook, by providing users with games like Farmville, Cityville and Mafia Wars. These findings are very significant, and have major implications for Google's social endeavors. Of course, the Google ecosystem is much larger than just Google+. Google's Vic Gundotra recently talked about how Google counts users who sign into Google+, and use another Google product within a month, as users. Presumably, this includes Gmail, YouTube, a signed in Google search (complete with Search Plus Your World), Google Reader, etc. According to Gundotra, Google+ has 100 million “30-day active” users.
Google put in a strong showing at the recent Game Developers Conference (granted, so did Facebook).
Michael King, the principal mobile strategist at Appcelerator, told us that because these findings were "so different than what we expected," they conducted a follow up study to make sure the results were accurate.
"For us, it was extremely surprising. When we put together the survey, we actually thought Facebook would just crush Google in terms of social engagement, and quite frankly, we saw Google make a tremendous showing, given the fact that their social initiatives are pretty much dwarfed by Facebook in every measurable manner," he said.
They learned that developers are pursuing Google over Facebook for its position in social and mobile. They believe Google is better in terms of its network assets such as YouTube, search, maps, and Android. They also felt Google engages with them better and offers more guidance into how they should approach social applications.
On the other hand, the developers feel that Facebook gives them a long list of what can be done with its API, but then doesn't offer any direction for how to do it.
"They [Facebook] really need to step up their engagement a little bit in order to get the developers excited about the platforms and to get the developers thinking about different ways to use social in their mobile apps," said King.
While this data is good news for Google, the study did find some less encouraging news for the search and advertising giant in terms of Android development. The study found that the interest in Android development has dipped more than 10 percent in the past 3 quarters. Incidentally, Mika Mobile announced that it was dropping support for Android earlier this month.
The iOS platform has remained the steady leader, but in the 2nd quarter of last year, Android was within 2 percentage points of it, said King. According to him, Android is dropping due to continued fragmentation of the platform.
"This is a very tough line for them to walk because, if you curtail fragmentation, then there's no way that a developer can effectively write once and work across multiple Android devices," King pointed out.
He told us that Google could help to solve this issue by establishing itself as a "centralized authority." King believes this could help both the distribution and discovery of apps.
Other significant findings in the study pertained to HTML5 and cloud development. For starters, both areas are growing. Around 79 percent of developers said they planned to integrate HTML5 into the apps they build this year. But, only 6 percent of developers will write their entire apps in HTML5. Most developers plan to build hybrid apps using both HTML5 and traditional code.
King told us these results were understandable since HTML5 is not always appropriate for the job.
"HTML5 is only one tool in the bag," he said. "Or, if you a golf fan, [it's] one club in the bag to help you get to the PGA tour."
Additionally, developers expressed an increased interest in cloud development, especially in the areas of location and notification. However, King said developers still struggle with understanding how to utilize the cloud.
So, what does all this research mean? Overall, King told us that the mobile/social wars have just begun. He believes that if companies want to succeed in this space, they have to engage with developers.
Furthermore, he suggested that the deeper implications of the data could mean a shift toward Google+ over Facebook. In fact, when asked if Google+ could catch up to Facebook, nearly 70 percent of respondents said it could.
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"If Facebook decides to fall asleep at the wheel here and doesn't begin to engage those developers, then absolutely Google+ and Google mobile may become the more de facto standard," said King.
He went on to say that he hopes both companies will respond to this report by building on their strengths and improving their weaknesses.
An interesting thing about Google mobile, however, is that Google continues to tie many of its products and platforms together in more ways, making the larger ecosystem more unified. Think Android, YouTube, Google Play, and Google TV. If what co-founder Sergey Brin said holds up, Chrome and Android will likely merge sooner or later, as well.
If this trend is happening with developers, will it soon transition to consumers too? Tell us what you think.
WebProNews Senior Writer Chris Crum contributed to this report.