The 8 trends mobile developers care about most

A new worldwide survey of mobile app developers reveals some interesting facts about their work, from platforms to motivation

The outline of human head under the title Inside the Mind of a Mobile App Developer

Programmers seem to impact just about everything these days and mobile developers, in particular, are playing an ever-growing role in the world. The ubiquity of smartphones and tablets and the rise of the Internet of Things (IoT) make the people who are creating the apps and tools for all the smart devices in our lives all the more important. A new global survey helps to shed light on the trends among mobile developers and the mobile economy, in general.

The 8th edition of VisionMobile's report, Developer Economics: State of the Developer Nation Q1 2015, was released earlier this month. The report is based on a survey of over 8,000 mobile developers in 143 countries. Among other things, it reveals trends in the platforms they target, the tools they use, and what motivates their work. Here are 8 things about mobile developers that you might not have known.

See also:


Infographic showing the mobile developer choice of platform

The battle between iOS and Android for developers is at a stalemate

Android is the primary platform for 40% of full-time mobile developers worldwide, while 37% of developers build for iOS primarily -- a split that hasn’t changed much in a year. iOS dominates for developers in North America and Europe (42% vs 33% for Android), while Android is the dominant primary platform for developers in the rest of the world (48% to 30% for iOS). Windows Phone is in a distant third place among mobile developers, being the primary platform for just 8% of them worldwide, followed by those who primarily target mobile browsers at 7%.

Report quote: “The positions of the platforms are becoming entrenched. Apple cannot move down-market without cannibalising their high-end sales. Android handset makers are increasingly unable to compete effectively for the premium customers. … the battle may already be effectively over.”


Infographic showing mobile developer adoption of Swift

Mobile developers are adopting Swift at unprecedented rates

Just months after Apple first released Swift, 20% of mobile developers across the globe are already using it, although just 2% are using it as their primary language, reflecting a decision to proceed cautiously with the new language. Swift is the 7th most popular language among mobile developers, with Java being No. 1, used by 57% worldwide with 29% of developers using it as their primary language. The vast majority of developers who’ve adopted Swift, 77% are already using Objective-C, and 29% of Swift programmers still use Objective-C as their primary language.

Report quote: "... it’s fair to say that adoption levels are totally unprecedented. For a language that’s still evolving and for which the tools are not yet mature … this is highly remarkable.”

Infographic showing monthly mobile developer revenues

The middle class of app developers is disappearing

There’s a growing polarization in the revenues developers earn from apps, with most earning either a whole lot or a whole little. Worldwide, just 24% of mobile developers earn between $1,000 and $10,000 per month in app revenue, more than half (52%) make less than $1,000 per month in app revenue, and 24% earned more than $10,000 per month. The middle class of app developers is smaller in more developed regions, around 20% in Oceania, North American, and Western Europe, than in less developed areas such as South American, Eastern Europe, and Russia where it’s closer to 30%

Developers who do iOS development primarily tend to make the most money and have the largest middle class. 15% earn more than $50,000 per month in revenue, while 37% of iOS-first developers make less than $500 per month. Things are bleaker and more polarized for Android-focussed programmers: 55% earn less than $500 per month in app revenue, while 7% earn more than $50,000 per month.

Report quote: “In the more mature markets with higher smartphone penetration, the middle class of small independent app developers is disappearing. This is understandable as they compete with larger and more sophisticated developers for direct revenues from the stores, but also for contract work with those in other countries with lower living costs. This is causing revenues to polarise.”

Infographic showing mobile developer involvement with the Internet of Things

Most mobile developers are creating software for the Internet of Things

While the market for software for the Internet of Things (IoT) is still relatively immature, more than half of mobile developers (53%) are already working on IoT projects. However, it appears that most are just experimenting with creating IoT software at this point; 30% of mobile developers working on IoT projects are doing so purely as a hobby (30%) or as a side project (just under 20%). The top IoT market being targeted by mobile developers is that for home and building management (targeted by 37% of developers), followed by wearables (35%).

Report quote: “The major smartphone players are making their bids for several IoT markets by extending their existing software ecosystems. The most popular [IoT] markets for those developers to target are the ones where the smartphone platforms have their biggest bets.”

Infographic showing the 3rd party tools used by mobile developers

More mobile developers are using cross-platform tools

83% of mobile developers reported using at least one third-party tool. User analytics tools are the most popular, used by 47% of all developers, followed by ad networks (31%), cross-platform tools (30%), push notifications (24%), and games development tools (24%). Developers who primarily targeted iOS were the most likely to use third-party tools, with 57% of them using user analytics tools (vs. 47% of Android coders), 36% using app store analytics (Android: 14%), and 17% using cross-promotion networks (Android: 6%). Cross-platform tools are increasingly popular, now used by 30% of all mobile developers, 40% of mobile browser developers, 34% of iOS programmers, and 25% of Android coders.

Report quote: “Both Web hybrid approaches and Xamarin are increasingly popular with enterprise-focused developers. This has resulted in cross-platform tools moving from being uncorrelated with revenues to having a positive correlation. ... there’s a lot of demand from enterprises for cross-platform development.”

Infographic showing the breakdown of mobile developers targeting enterprise vs consumer

Mobile developers are increasingly targeting the enterprise

While most mobile developers (64%) still target consumers first, 20% of all mobile developers now primarily target the enterprise, up from 16% six months ago. The greater willingness of businesses to pay for useful software also translates into more revenue for enterprise developers: 45% make more than $10,000 per month vs. just 19% of consumer-focussed developers. Programmers targeting the enterprise are also more likely to develop for cross-platform, since businesses often require it; for example, 11% of enterprise developers target mobile browsers primarily vs. just 5% of consumer-oriented mobile programmers.

Report quote: “... demand for good mobility solutions for enterprises outstrips supply at the moment, and really well executed products and services are getting a lot of word-of- mouth marketing. Also, the competition for consumer attention is so fierce that getting a large user base for any app is often prohibitively expensive.”


Infographic showing how mobile developers break down by motivation

iOS developers, more than others, are motivated by money

VisionMobile segmented mobile developers based on their motivation. Almost half of all developers were classified as either Explorers, those using side projects to gain experience (23%), or Hunters, those looking build an app business in order to make money (23%). A slightly larger percent of developers who target Android primarily are Explorers (26%), and slightly fewer are Hunters (21%). The largest segment of programmers developing primarily for mobile browsers are Guns For Hire (those developing apps on commission, 19%) followed closely by Explorers (18%). iOS developers, on the other hand, are mostly motivated by money, with 31% being Hunters, 20% classified as Guns For Hire, and only 17% being Explorers.

Report quote: “The greater numbers of Hunters [among iOS developers] reflect the higher revenues available, and more Guns for Hire reflect a contract market where almost every major business wants their app on iOS.“

Infographic showing the breakdown of mobile developers by revenue model

Mobile developers are chasing the wrong revenue models

The vast majority of mobile developers (73%) are building apps with revenue models based on either app sales (37%) or advertising (36%). However, the revenues generated by both of these models ($40.5 billion in 2015 for app sales and $34 billion by advertising) are dwarfed by the revenue generated by e-commerce ($300 billion). Only 9% of mobile developers are building e-commerce apps, suggesting that they’re missing out on significant revenue opportunities.

Report quote: “Despite the enormous revenue opportunity offered by mobile e-Commerce, only 9% of developers are using this revenue model. Unless there’s a lot of e-Commerce related development being done through other models … then there’s a big gap in the market here.”

Copyright © 2015 IDG Communications, Inc.