Developers Think Facebook Is Doomed

Mobile platforms these days rely on their developer communities to stock their digital shelves with engaging and compelling content. Appcelerator, which offers cross-platform development tools for building native apps, teamed up with researcher IDC to survey its large community of developers in an effort to gauge where developers see platforms in the future.

I also had a chance to speak with Michael King, Appcelerator's director of enterprise strategy, to discuss the results. The survey had over 5,500 respondents, a meaningful sample size, and here's what developers think is on the horizon.

Facebook will lose in mobile
A strikingly large proportion -- two-thirds of nearly 4,800 respondents for this question -- believe that eventually Facebook (Nasdaq: FB  ) will lose out in mobile, disrupted by a mobile-centric social startup that focuses on mobile computing from the get-go. The market for mobile social apps is burgeoning, and Facebook could be caught off guard by a smaller rival.

On this one, I'm going to have to disagree with the results. Facebook's weakness in mobile has historically been tied to its monetization, not so much its consumer appeal. On top of that, it has network effects that no one, not even Google (Nasdaq: GOOG  ) , can compete with. Mark Zuckerberg makes it clear that Facebook is now primarily a mobile company above all else, and I think the company will be able to fend off meaningful threats.

HTML5 isn't working
Echoing Zuckerberg's admission that pursuing HTML5 was the "biggest strategic mistake" that Facebook has made, an overwhelming percentage weren't happy with HTML5 on numerous important fronts.

Neutral to Dissatisfied

Satisfied

1. Monetization (83.4%)

1. Cross-development capabilities (83.4%)

2. Security (81.8%)

2. Immediate updates (81.8%)

3. Fragmentation (75.4%)

 

4. Performance (72.4%)

 

5. Timeliness of new updates (67.9%)

 

6. User experience (62%)

 

7. Distribution control (60.3%)

 

Ranking developer satisfaction of HTML5 mobile apps of 4,700 respondents. Sources: Appcelerator and IDC.

Facebook recently transitioned its app for Apple (Nasdaq: AAPL  ) iOS from HTML5 to its native language and has seen massive improvements in performance. This survey took place before Zuckerberg's comments at TechCrunch Disrupt.

As if there was any doubt, this shows just how dead wrong ACI Research analyst and CEO Edward Zabitsky is with his bearish call on Apple. Last year he predicted that all mobile platforms were becoming commoditized as HTML5 mobile apps would herald in a new age of open ecosystems -- one that's hardware-agnostic and thus people would stop buying iDevices and Apple's empire would crumble and fall into the Pacific Ocean. Less than six months ago he reiterated his "sell short" rating and $270 price target. Needless to say, that call isn't working out so well.

King explains there are two flawed assumptions about HTML5 that hold it back in mobile. The first is the hopes that standards bodies will move quickly to integrate all the various features and functions included in today's mobile devices. The second goes hand-in-hand with the first -- namely,  the notion that hardware vendors will stop innovating new features to be tapped. In essence, HTML5 is too slow to catch up with functionalities that consumers expect of their mobile devices, and simply can't catch up with the rate of hardware innovation.

Platform wars
Apple's iOS remains the platform of choice among developers, with 85% expressing interest. Android interest has been declining over four quarters, in part due to fragmentation concerns. Research In Motion (Nasdaq: RIMM  ) hit an all-time low of 9% interest, surprising no one. For context, nearly 40% of developers were interested in BlackBerry development less than two years ago.

Developers remain hopeful but guarded about Microsoft (Nasdaq: MSFT  ) Windows 8 and the potential it has. The ability to develop across platforms is appealing and yields efficiencies, since Windows Phone 8 is built on the same core. Since having a large installed base of devices is one of the most important factors affecting developer interest, and Microsoft is starting from scratch, it faces an uphill battle against the dominant incumbents iOS and Android.

If Windows 8 unit sales fail to impress, developers have little vested and will simply move on, which will cause consumers to do the same.

Survey says
The findings of the survey largely corroborate everything investors already suspected. Apple and Google continue to rule with iron fists, RIM is quickly spiraling into oblivion, and Microsoft has a long shot at hitting it big.

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Fool contributor Evan Niu, CFA, owns shares of Apple, but he holds no other position in any company mentioned. Click here to see his holdings and a short bio. The Motley Fool owns shares of Google, Apple, Microsoft, and Facebook. Motley Fool newsletter services have recommended buying shares of Google, Facebook, Microsoft, and Apple. Motley Fool newsletter services have also recommended creating a bull call spread position in Apple and a synthetic covered call position in Microsoft. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.
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