Andreas Constantinou

Mobile Developer Economics 2010: The migration of developer mindshare

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our research shows that Symbian and Java ME, which dominated the developer mindshare pool until 2008, have been superceded by the Android and iPhone platforms.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, 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

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