For the first time this year at Mobile World Congress, an entire building was roped off for application developers with each day of the inaugural App Planet being hosted by another player — Sony (NYSE: SNE) Ericsson (NSDQ: ERIC), Motorola (NYSE: MOT), Research In Motion and Google’s Android.
While the rest of the show — spanning seven other halls — focused on Microsoft’s Windows Phone 7 and the rapid proliferation of Android devices from too many handset-makers to count, I ducked into App Planet to get an unofficial litmus test for what the buzz is among developers.
Keep in mind, when talking to developers, you mostly get a sense of what’s hot over the next three months, since typically that’s their development cycle. What I learned was this: Apple (NSDQ: AAPL) continues to rule because it brings in the most business; Android is a distant second; BlackBerry is promising; Symbian is dead to the world; and Microsoft’s year-end Windows 7 release is too far away to care about. But while those were the opinions of some, participation spoke louder than words: at one point at BlackBerry’s event, fewer than 100 people were listening to a power point presentation, and at Google’s event, it was completely sold out with a line forming just in case there was room for more.
The attention on Google (NSDQ: GOOG) is not a huge surprise. Google’s CEO Eric Schmidt keynoted on the first day and seeded conversation for the week by announcing that 60,000 phones running Google Android were being shipped a day. Also, an untold number of Android devices were unveiled this week, including higher-profile launches from Sony Ericsson, Huawei, HTC and Motorola (which announced its eighth device).
However, when chatting with a number of developers during BlackBerry’s presentation on Tuesday, the message was that it was still mostly about the iPhone. Kevin, a so-called Android consultant, even admitted that Android “is hot right now, but also some people aren’t feeling it.” Simon Maddox, a UK-based developer who makes apps for large brands, said iPhone requests still dominate. “First, brands ask for the iPhone, and then if any money is left over in the budget, it’s Android.” Now he’s particularly busy fulfilling requests for the iPad. “After it was announced, I got a ridiculous amount of emails from brands.”
But things can change quickly. As Maddox recalls, there was not a single Android device on display at MWC last year. While Vodafone (NYSE: VOD) announced that it was going to start selling its first, the only place to get a sense of the platform was at the HTC booth, where there was a video. That sounds a lot like Microsoft’s Windows 7 this year. Announced on Monday, Microsoft (NSDQ: MSFT) is only showing videos at its booth, and won’t have products in the market until late this year. Details on what kind of developer community Microsoft will create are still completely up in the air.
As for Symbian, the prospects are dwindling. The developers said despite growing up in the UK, where Nokia (NYSE: NOK) was the dominate brand, they’ve started writing them off. While Nokia’s user base is larger than Apple’s, it’s not as active. The Ovi Store also has its set of challenges with downloading errors and carrier billing difficulties, they said. And, now, Nokia doesn’t even have a booth at the show — and didn’t drum up any support by releasing a new device. In comparison, even BlackBerry is becoming more interesting as the devices become popular worldwide and expand from the enterprise to consumers.
Also, gathering quite a lot of buzz is the idea of widgets and developing on a common technology that could run across multiple platforms. On Monday, two dozen carriers announced that they were forming an alliance to create an