Gamasutra, a great website devoted to "the art and business of making games", has an article today on developing games for Android. Of course, about half of the article is spent discussing the success of the App Store and making comparisons to it.
Although I like the article, there are a few things in it that I take exception to. On the first page, for example, the article says that Android uses the "more developer friendly Java". What the hell does that mean? I've done both Java and Objective-C for a living, and neither one has ever waved to me or gotten me a cup of coffee. They're programming languages. Sure, there are more people who already know Java than Objective-C, but if that's what he meant, there were far more accurate ways of saying it.
It's also just plain wrong in terms of game programming. Objective-C is a superset of C and you can write entire games in C or C++ with the exception of a small amount of code to set up and configure your OpenGL ES view. Please don't even try to tell me that, from the perspective of a game programmer, Java is more "user friendly" than writing OpenGL code in C or C++.
Overall, the tone of the article is very optimistic, almost like a recruitment article hoping get people interested in Android development. They point to statistics to show that Android is gaining momentum and the iPhone is losing it. Well, you know what Disraeli said about statistics1.
If you follow the link in the last paragraph, the iPhone chart clearly does not show a decline in anything except in an artificial comparison to Android in terms of "percentage of projects started" (a dubious metric, at best). The iPhone is showing a slowdown in growth when looking at new projects being started, but there is still growth, and considering just how big and successful the store has been, that's kind of amazing. On the other hand, look at the Y-axis label on both charts. They are using completely different scales. If they were charted together on the same graph, the Android "flurry" of project starts would barely get over the first line, and it would do that in only one of the months charted. Also, while the iPhone may be experiencing a slowdown in new project starts, that's more than being offset by an increase in interest from the large gaming interests like EA and the fact that many more big, long-term projects are being started.
I don't want to come across as too down on Android. I think right now, of all the smart phones in the race, it's in the best position to be a real competitor to the iPhone, and a strong competitor is definitely something the iPhone needs. If I had to bet on which platform might overtake the iPhone someday, it would be Android, but I would not be betting a lot of money. There's still an open field for second place and a long distance between the pack and the current leader. Nobody currently jockeying for second place has begun to move substantially away from the pack toward the leader. At some point, somebody undoubtedly will break away and gain ground on the iPhone, but nobody - including Android - has started the kick yet. They might have a little better odds on placing, but they're still a long shot for winning.
Androids greatest advantage in that field also be its Achille's heel in terms of game development, which is the fact that Android is hardware agnostic. It will run on a variety of devices from different manufacturers with different CPUs and different GPUs. It will run on phones with touch screens and phones with keyboards. That's going to introduce a lot of complexity and make it hard to write apps that work perfectly on all Android devices that ever have been made or ever will be made, or even to identify how well it will run on any potential customer's phone. The only way for a developer to know if their game will perform well on any particular phone is to buy them all and test. That just isn't a possibility for the stereotypical garage game developer. This hardware agnosticism also means that optimizing game code for performance might result in improvements on one platform and then unexpectedly cause degradation on another. Those are issues that big game companies have the resources and experience to deal with, but are not so easy for smaller independent game developers.
Despite the issues, despite the difficulty competing in an increasingly large App Store that's beginning to get populated with big-budget games, I feel strongly that the iPhone is still the best game in town for the small, independent game developer, and it will continue to be well into the foreseeable future. Yes, you will still have to market your game. Yes, there is a chance of failure. The App Store is not magic, it's just a great opportunity.
Now, this equation will change over time, and this what I'm saying not be true a few years from now, but it's going to take time for Android to build momentum and gain ground. Right now, the games in the top ten on the Android Store are averaging well less than $100 a day income, and that's just not enough potential money for most people - big companies and independent developers alike - to see it as a viable opportunity proposition yet.
1: "There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics." It was originally said by British Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli. Sometimes it's wrongly attributed to Mark Twain. Though he certainly popularized it in America, the quote does not originate from him.