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Mobile Developer Economics 2010: The migration of developer mindshare

[In part 1 of the 4-part series on our latest research - Mobile Developer Economics 2010 and Beyond - Andreas Constantinou looks at the migration of developer mindshare that is taking place in mobile software and the drivers behind that. Full research report available for free download]
The article is also available in Chinese.


Software has played a critical role in transforming the mobile industry since the beginning of the century. Since 2008, mobile software and applications have moved from the sphere of cryptic engineering lingo to part of the essential marketing playbook for mobile industry vendors.

In stock market terms, developer mindshare is one of the hottest “commodities” in the mobile business, one whose “stock price” has ballooned in the last two years. Platform vendors, handset OEMs, network operators, hardware vendors, and infrastructure providers all want to contribute to mobile apps innovation. Mobile players, from hardware vendors and handset OEMs to networks, are now vying to win software developer mindshare, in order to add value on top of their devices and networks. But how is the landscape of mobile developer mindshare looking today?

Our new report Mobile Developer Economics 2010 and Beyond, offers many new insights into mobile developer mindshare, and analysis into every touch point of the developer journey, from platform selection to monetisation. The research is based on a set of benchmarks and a survey across 400+ developers globally, segmented into 8 major platforms: iOS (iPhone), Android, Symbian, BlackBerry, Java ME, Windows Phone, Flash Lite, and mobile web.

In terms of developer mindshare, our research shows that Symbian and Java ME, which dominated the developer mindshare pool until 2008, have been superceded by the Android and iPhone platforms. Despite Symbian remaining in the pole position in terms of smartphone market penetration, ‘out-shipping’ iPhone 4 to 1 and Android many-times to 1, the signs of dissatisfaction with the way the Symbian platform has evolved have long been evident.

Indeed Android stands out as the top platform according to developer experience, with close to 60 percent of developers having recently developed on Android, assuming an equal number of developers with experience on each of eight major platforms. iOS (iPhone) follows closely as the next most popular platform, outranking both Symbian and Java ME, which until 2008 were in pole position.

In the last two years, a mindshare migration has taken place for mobile developers away from the incumbent platforms Symbian, Java ME and Windows Phone, while a substantial number of PC software developers have flocked to iPhone and Android. The large minority (20-25 percent) of Symbian respondents who sell their apps via iPhone and Android app stores reveals the brain-drain that is taking place towards these newer platforms. The vast majority of Java ME respondents have lost faith in the write-once-run-anywhere vision. Moreover, anecdotal developer testimonials suggest that half of Windows Phone MVP developers (valued for their commitment to the platform) carry an iPhone and would think twice before re-investing in Windows Phone. We should also point out the exodus of some influential developers from the Symbian camp, as is the case with the closing of Symbian-Guru.com, one of the leading community sites related to the platform, whose founder moved to adopt Android.

The disparity between devices and applications

One of the most telling clues about the speed of evolution of the new vs old platforms is the great disparity between the device installed base and the number of available apps for each platform. While Windows Phone, Symbian, Java and Flash have many times the market penetration of Android, iPhone and BlackBerry, the number of apps available tells a very different story.

The two platforms that best illustrate the above point are Java ME and iOS (iPhone). Java ME boasts an installed base of a staggering 3 billion, while the actual number of apps is very low by comparison. The iOS platform on the other hand is available in just over 60 million devices (not including iPods/iPads) but its app store contains more than 250K apps at this time, a number that will climb even higher in the foreseeable future.

The disparity is also pronounced in cross-platform runtimes i.e. Java ME and Flash Lite. This flies in the face the traditional common sense, i.e. that cross-platform runtimes are the way forward, when the number of apps available for those platforms are tiny in comparison. The recent Apple vs Adobe rift and the subsequent banning of Flash from all iProducts has only weakened Adobe’s position. In parallel Sun has launched half-hearted attempts at reducing fragmentation, the number one Java ME pain point, while the Oracle take over is only worsening the problem.

Choosing a mobile platform – facts and perceptions

Most developers work on multiple platforms, on average 2.8 platforms per developer, based on our sample of 400 respondents (although note that 60% of respondents had more than 3 years of experience). Moreover, one in five iPhone and Android respondents release apps in both the Apple App Store and Android Market.

The question is: in a market crowded with software platforms, how do developers choose between iOS, Android, Symbian, Java ME, BlackBerry, Flash, Windows Phone, mobile web, WebOS or Samsung Bada? For today’s mobile developer, market penetration and revenue potential are hands down the two most important reasons for selecting a platform.

Large market penetration was chosen by 75 percent of respondents across each of the eight major platforms we surveyed. Revenue potential was the second most important reason, chosen by over half of respondents. In fact, market penetration and revenue potential were more important than any single technical reason for selecting a platform, revealing how mobile developers today are savvy about the economic implications of mobile development.

The preference of marketing over technical reasons signifies a turn in the developer mindset. Developers no longer see programming fun as a sufficient reward in itself, but consider monetisation opportunities as a primary priority. It seems that, mobile developers now have a sense of commercial pragmatism. As commented by one of our developer respondents, “Technical considerations are irrelevant. The choice of platform is always marketing-driven”.

Looking forward to your comments. Next week, we’ll look at the next chapter in our research on taking apps to market. Stay tuned or ,better yet, subscribe to the blog.

Full report is available for free download, thanks to the kind sponsorship of Telefonica Developer Communities. You can follow Telefonica Developer Communities through their blog.

Are you a mobile app developer? Want to participate in the next mobile developer research and voice your own opinions on mobile development? Fill out the registration form & we’ll be in touch.

- Andreas
you should follow me on twitter: @andreascon

  • http://blog.radvision.com/voipsurvivor/ Tsahi Levent-Levi

    Andreas,

    An interesting post. How do you view the "other" set of mobile applications? Those developed by large corporations who wish to improve their customer's accessibility to their services. In this area, you can mention banks, cellular operators themselves, large Web 2.0 companies, etc.

    How do their decision making processes compare to those of indy developers who are trying to make a buck out of an application/game?

    Tsahi

  • Francis Sepparton

    The fact is that iOS and Android are the confirmed winners.

    As for the rest…

    I don't think any more proprietary platforms will be successful. Apple has taken that mantle. I think only open platforms have any chance of competing. MeeGo, for example, is starting to get a good amount of momentum.

    Bada is still too closed. Windows Phone 7 doesn't have any hope, and will be the fist to fall.

  • http://www.marybranscombe.com Mary Branscombe

    "assuming an equal number of developers with experience on each of eight major platforms"

    do you have any stats to back up that assumption? it seems to me to beg a lot of questions…

  • http://samsungmobile.co.in Samsung Mobile

    Mobile is connect your personal easily.

    mobile<a>

  • Jim

    I have to wonder about this. Recent figures I saw from scrapings of the app stores showed 4 times as many iOS developers as Android developers – so where are all those Android developer's apps going?

  • http://visionmobile.com/blog Andreas Constantinou

    Hi Tsahi,

    Only 20% of our respondents were students or freelance developers, so 80% worked for companies big and small. So the results span a wide set of developer profiles. In fact 29% of respondents work for companies of 11-100 people and 28% of respondents work for companies over 500 people.

    Francis,

    The mobile industry landscape is constantly changing, so you never now how it will look like in the next 2 years. iOS and Android are leading today, but no-one know what disruptions are going to take place in the next 2 years.

    Mary,

    Every region, app genre, or otherwise segment of mobile developers has different characteristics. We decided against normalising for a particular region, and instead assumed that there is an equal number of developers from each of major major platforms that we polled; thereby removing platform bias from the analysis.

    The way to read the mindshare graph is that – irrespective of their platform of choice – most developers have experience in developing for Android primarily, following by iOS (iPhone), Symbian and Java ME.

    Andreas

  • http://www.marybranscombe.com Mary Branscombe

    I know it varies by region and the other factors, and I don't even play a statistician on the Internet, but if there are x developers for platform A and 4x developers for platform B and 10x developers for platform C and 80% of platform A developers say they've developed for it recently and only 50% of developers for B and 40% for C say they've developed for it recently, the number of active developers is so much higher for C even though the percentage is lower that I'd want to see some normalisation for that – goldfish size and pond size. It would be nice to see whether the difference between say 60 and 70% is more than a couple of people in each group.

  • Mentis

    Once they have graphics available for the app, they want to port it to as many platforms. Once ported to say iphone app store, they wont have much work and they will go for another platform.

  • Pierre Bureau

    One thing I would like to see is a comparison between opportunities to develop in Flash (which is now available on Android 2.2, and it may come to nokia's platform) vs developing a native app.

    Would the potential benefit to have the app (especially games) distributed on as many channels as possible (web portals, social networks ..) make sense economically?

  • http://www.earthcomber.com Jim Brady

    Timimg is everything. Just as this well-developed report has come out, the real champion gaining momentum is unquestionably code written for powerful, adroit new browsers. Of all these platforms recited in the breakdown, what is breaking out now most closely resembles Palm's webOS, but is really all about the fact that no one owns it. We're talking WebView, a really clean and basic triumverate of html, javascript and CSS (cacading style sheets), that take full, unobstructed advantage of graphics handling, location signal and a score of other features now standard in webkit browsers already quietly packed into new devices everywhere.

    Developers increasingly discover this route takes care of their top two concerns. First, yes, one body of code to keep developing, pushing features, instead of picking the poison with the platform (Apple's autocratic devices services restrictions and oxymoronic Objective C coding, even its politburo publishing arm – all can be eclipsed with apps that can be put on iPhones as a simple bookmark.)

    Tune the stylesheets, and all the worlds smartphones are one big installed base.

    The reason for that astonishing untapped pre-2008 java and symbian market identified in the article, is that it is a vast market of limited, basic devices. Developers have had to tangle tiny heap sizes, storage, and browsers extremely basic. Part of the Webkit/Webview uptake is the off-device, server-composed virtual browsers like Skyfire, Novarra, and Opera. These are the path to get apps – webkit apps – rendering results on even primative browsers.

    Developers are most pragmatic to build in this direction, and can advance their apps' value with time spent on adding new magic rather than fighting flames in compatability hell

    Marketing, then, will be less about whose store you're competing for shelfspace, more about the heart of this article, having companies woo good apps with good deals, and spend their marketing getting developers' work recognized and rewarded, not heaped up inside proprietary walls. Which continues with these code clans as a means to keep developers obsequient, no matter how their fortunes shift.

    Jim

  • shmerl

    What about upcoming MeeGo? It aims to compete with iOS and Android.

  • J.P.

    Let me summarize this for you:

    Developing for Symbian is hard: the coding is hard, the handset market is large but totally fractured, and the Ovi store is horrible. (From my experience *trying* to write an app, and owning a Nokia E71x.)

    Developing for Android is easy: dev environment is free, the Java toolkit is relatively straightforward to code with, most of the handsets are decent, and the Android Market is decent. (Based on my experience writing an app, and using an original G1.)

    Developing for iPhone is medium difficulty: you have to own a Mac, know a little C, and pay for the toolkits. However, there are few models (but millions of them), the App Store is pretty good, and there is a huge marketing machine behind the platform. (Base on my experience using an original iPhone, and taking a small class on iPhone development.)

  • http://mobileinternetrevolution.com Matt Gratt

    Hi Andreas,

    What a great report. I really enjoyed it – thanks for looking at all of this, and big thanks to you and Telstra for making it public.

    I wrote a response post – http://www.mobileinternetrevolution.com/visionmob… – having only worked in the US market, my perspective is different (and more limited), but it seems like iOS is really winning here in terms of demand.

    I wanted to suggest an alternate theory about Android's strong performance in developer mindshare (first or second, no matter how you slice it):

    - Developers are not swayed by Google's claims of openness, because it is simply not that open.

    - $100 is not a big deal – having an Apple computer to develop on is a barrier. Being unable to sell Android market apps is a much bigger barrier.

    - Apple's capricious app store approval process has scared off lots of developers, who by personality tend to be libertarian and unappreciative of Apple's curation/editing/censorship.

  • http://susops.blogspot.com/ Maintenance Man

    The font on your web page is seriously small.

  • http://www.osellus.com Payman Hodaie

    From development perspective–having developed iPhone, and Android apps–availability a set of fully integrated dedicated tooling (IDE, performance analyzers, simulators) makes a massive difference. That's were Apple with Xcode, and even Microsoft with Visual Studio, have a major advantage over all other mobile platform vendors.

    Eclipse based development tools don't come close to the performance and functionality of dedicated tooling that have evolved over decades.

  • http://www.perpetumdesign.com Pavel Lahoda

    @Payman : I don't share your optimism about Xcode. Eclipse with Android plugin is pretty decent IDE and all important parts are there. It is no wonder that new Xcode looks much closer to Eclipse than the current version.

    You can be pretty productive on Android with Eclipse.

  • m4p

    Surely what you present is that 3rd party software plays a side role as far as revenues in the mobile industry are concerned. You illustrate that platforms with (relatively) little developer support dominates device and mostly likely traditional services (voice / sms) revenues.

    It seems to infer that 3rd party developers are 'somewhat' of interest but largely speaking minor players.

  • http://www.osellus.com Payman Hodaie

    Pavel do you really feel Andorid simulator support in Eclipse is as good as iPhone simulator support in Xcode? How about tools like Instruments and Shark? Is there any such performance tools for Android on Eclipse? Have you used Interface builder? Does Eclipse has anything like it?

    Finally I run both IDEs on a MacBook Pro; Eclipse is about 3 to 4 times slower than Xcode.

  • http://visionmobile.com/blog Andreas Constantinou

    Hi Mary,

    Our methodology is fully detailed on the back of the report – for example we had 93 Android, 67 iPhone, 74 Symbian and 51 Java developer respondents. I follow what you 're saying though, and in retrospect we should have also released the full matrix of platform experience correlations (e.g. developers who have experience on Symbian also have experience on x). Checking the actual data, our results show that 45% of Symbian, 56% of iOS, 58% of Java ME and 70% of BlackBerry developer respondents have worked on Android.

    Pierre,

    This is a piece of research we 're also keen to do – i.e. measure the relative cost vs the relative revenues from developing across platforms. Cost is particularly interesting, as it involves time-to-development, debugging, experience levels, etc plus how many variants (SKUs) you have to create per platform (the fragmentation issue). Suffice to say that this revenues over cost per platform is incredible complex to model in a way that's applicable to all developers.

    In developing cross-platform apps the main challenge to consider is that the cross-platform app stores are generally inferior in terms of downloads, apps and rev shares when compared to 'native app stores'.

    Jim,

    How consistent is the WebView implementation across the 250 million or more instances of WebKit deployed in the market? I think we 're still far from talking about a single runtime environment for web developers.

    Shmerl,

    MeeGo was not part of this study, simply because our research commenced before the announcement of MeeGo. Plus there are no commercially available mobile devices sold with MeeGo as of yet :)

    J.P.,

    Great summary – we should have quoted you in our report :)

    Matt,

    Agreed on most points. From experience I have to say that developer views tend to get *very* polarised around open source communities. Android's open source licensing has promulgated a 'do no evil' rhetoric around many Android communities and inspired may die-hard fans amongst developers.

    Payman, Pavel,

    I guess we 'll only know objectively by doing a side-by-side comparison of load times, debugging times, emulator times, etc of the two IDEs.

    Andreas

  • http://twitter.com/TektonikShift TektonikShift

    Good report,

    Two comments;

    1) Developers moving away from the PC and toward Mobile platforms (mostly Android & iPhone) is bad news for Microsoft

    2) The commercial pragmatism of mobile App developers reflects the nature of the mobile App ecosystem.

    i) its open to most any useful (and not useful) App

    ii) you can make money for yourself, no need to write code for "the man"

    -Tek
    http://twitter.com/TektonikShift

  • junkCafe

    Informative report, indeed. Revisiting the trends on a regular basis would be a huge plus. I think Android alone has created a significant "critical mass" by opening up a market that is no longer dominated by a fruit and a glass-paned portal. Plus, the marketing geniuses at Google really know how to push a platform for the geek culture. Right now, a developer can't ignore Android or mobile: it is here to stay.

  • http://www.geniusport.com GeniusPort

    Amazing info on Mobile Developer Economics, especially appreciate the inforgraphic. Its the best time for both entrepreneurs and companies.

    Its fascinating to see that majority of the apps built are from a team of 2-3 people which gives immense opportunity for startups and beginner programmers for mobile applications development

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