How Amazon lit a fire under Android tablet app development

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Jason Ankenyeditor's corner

Amazon.com is now shipping its much-anticipated Kindle Fire tablet, and perhaps no demographic segment is more excited about its release than mobile application developers. Priced at $199, compared to $499 for Apple's (NASDAQ:AAPL) cheapest iPad, the Kindle Fire is doing something no rival device has done: It's fueling genuine developer enthusiasm for building Android tablet applications. Forty-nine percent of North American developers are "very interested" in creating apps for the Kindle Fire, surpassing all other Android-powered tablets, according to development platform Appcelerator's Q4 Mobile Developer Report. In fact, pre-release enthusiasm for the Kindle Fire rivals developer excitement for the iPad prior to its April 2010 launch. European and Asian developers are sizing up the Kindle Fire opportunity as well, with only Samsung's year-old Galaxy Tab generating greater enthusiasm overseas.

Credit developer interest in the Kindle Fire to its price tag: Thirty-eight percent of Appcelerator survey respondents cite price as the most compelling factor fueling their excitement in building apps for the tablet. Another 30 percent point to Amazon.com's content library--the Kindle Fire is rolling out with access to more than 18 million movies, TV shows, songs, books, magazines, apps and games, as well as free storage in the Amazon Cloud. Just 10 percent say Amazon's Appstore for Android is driving their interest in the device, while 8 percent cite the digital retailer's relatively affluent customer demographic and another 8 percent cite integration with Amazon e-commerce services. Only 4 percent credit their enthusiasm to the Kindle Fire user experience, and the remaining 2 percent point to its seven-inch form factor.

Consumer interest in the Kindle Fire is undoubtedly strong: Last week, DigiTimes reported that Amazon recently increased orders to more than 5 million units based on pre-orders and expected holiday demand. With most rival Android tablets priced in the $500 range, it's no wonder developers haven't rushed to build apps optimized for the experience. But some developers remain skeptical about the Kindle Fire, due mostly to--you guessed it--Android fragmentation. Thirty-two percent of developers interested in creating Kindle Fire apps say the device is sufficiently different from other Android tablets to create new fragmentation headaches--related directly to that concern, 20 percent of developers express questions about the Fire's lack of signature Android features like camera capabilities and GPS integration. "Different versions mixed with different capabilities will add to a company's already complex plans for mobile adoption," Appcelerator states. "Amazon will need to adopt some coherent versioning policy to maintain developer interest long-term as it continues to shadow Android development behind Google."

Whatever the Kindle Fire's ultimate impact on Android tablet app development turns out to be, for now it's having no effect on developer interest in Apple's iOS platform. Ninety-one percent of Appcelerator respondents say they are very interested in writing for the iPhone, followed by the iPad at 88 percent--at the same time, developer enthusiasm for creating Android smartphone apps slipped nearly 4 percentage points to 83 percent, a drop Appcelerator blames on excitement around the release of Apple's iOS 5 update, which developers cited as the most significant announcement of the past quarter. Microsoft's (NASDAQ:MSFT) Windows Phone is picking up steam--38 percent of respondents indicate strong interest in the platform, a quarterly increase of 8 percentage points, and Microsoft's best-ever showing in the Appcelerator survey--and Research In Motion's (NASDAQ:RIMM) BlackBerry continues to evaporate, with only 21 percent of developer respondents expressing strong interest in creating apps for BlackBerry smartphones (down 7 percentage points quarter-over-quarter) and only 13 percent expressing a desire to write BlackBerry PlayBook tablet apps (a 6 percentage-point decline). The Kindle Fire may be fanning the flames of Android tablet app development, but it seems nothing can ignite interest in BlackBerry. -Jason