Business Platforms Tools

State of the Developer Nation: The App Economy Consolidates Before the Next Gold Rush

Our 7th Developer Economics survey broke all records again, reaching more than 10,000 app developers from 137 different countries. The full report with the survey findings has just been published and is available for free download!

The view of the app economy that they collectively provide is one of consolidation. Developers are focusing their attention on fewer platforms and app revenues are becoming increasingly concentrated amongst the top publishers. Consolidation in the developers tools sector may also be partly responsible for the decline we see in tools usage. This is also reflected by the platforms, with BlackBerry moving their focus away from consumer smartphones and Microsoft killing their recently acquired Asha and Nokia X platforms to double down on Windows Phone. Fortunately there are several indicators that the next gold rush is just getting started.

Platform Wars in the App Economy

On a global level the platform wars are ending with iOS claiming the majority of the high-end device market and Android winning almost everywhere else. This results in [tweetable]Android leading in developer mindshare at 70% with iOS a clear second with 51% of developers targeting the platform[/tweetable]. However, we’ve been tracking this metric since 2010 and there is a new pattern. [tweetable]Windows Phone was the only platform to gain developer mindshare, rising steadily to 28%[/tweetable], despite failing to gain device market share. Although Android and iOS lost developer mindshare, this was not fewer developers prioritising either platform, rather more developers are now choosing sides. The average number of platforms a developer targets has fallen from 2.9 to 2.2 over the last 12 months, with more than 40% only targeting a single platform.


BlackBerry 10 is rapidly leaking developer mindshare, down to 11%, having failed to gain traction with consumers. Meanwhile, it’s now becoming increasingly clear that [tweetable]the future of HTML5 lies beyond the browser[/tweetable]. Although HTML5 is used by 42% of developers as a technology for app development, only 15% still target mobile browsers as a distribution platform.

A surprisingly high 47% of iOS developers and 42% of Android developers are using something other than the native language on their platforms. While hybrid apps are the most popular non-native option for building Android and iOS apps, they’re only used by 13% of developers. Hybrid apps are HTML5 apps with a native wrapper, typically created by tools such as Cordova.


App Revenues

The majority of app businesses are not sustainable at current revenue levels. [tweetable]50% of iOS developers and 64% of Android developers are below the “app poverty line” of $500 per app per month[/tweetable]. 24% of developers interested in making money earn nothing at all. A further 23% make less than $100 per app per month. The overall app economy, including all revenue sources not just the app stores, is still growing but the revenues are highly concentrated. At the top end of the revenue scale there are just 1.6% of developers with apps earning more than $500k per month, collectively they earn multiples of the other 98.4% combined.


State of the Game Developer Nation

Games dominate app store revenues, yet most games developers struggle. [tweetable]33% of developers make games but 57% of those games make less than $500 per month[/tweetable]. Experience breeds success in the games market. The more games a developer has shipped the more likely they are to be financially successful. However, 70% of games developers have shipped less than 4 titles.

Games is a multi-platform world with the average games developer targeting 3 platforms versus 1.75 platforms for non-games developers. Multi-platform games benefit from cross-platform game development tools with Unity by far the most popular, used by 47% of developers. The next paid tool, Adobe Air, comes a distant second at 15%. Apple and Google’s latest graphics technologies launch a battle for the richest gaming experiences. Third party game development tools like Unity and the Unreal Engine will be key to developers exploiting these capabilities.


Tools of the App Developer Trade

Third-party tools are a critical part of successful app businesses. There’s a strong correlation between tool use and revenues, the more tools a developer uses, the more money they make. We successfully predicted the rise of the Mega-SDK, where consolidation amongst tools companies allows developers to integrate multiple tool categories from a single vendor. Despite this, tool use is declining, partly due to the rapid influx of new mobile developers. These new developers are typically not aware of the tools that are available and thus reduce the average usage levels. 26% of developers that are interested in making money don’t use any third party tools, up from 14% just 12 months ago.


The most popular category of tool is Ad Networks, with 30% of developers using them. However, this is one of the few tool categories that is not associated with higher than average revenues. More experienced and successful developers show a preference for Cloud Computing platforms, such as Amazon Web Services or Microsoft Azure, with 40% of those with 6+ years experience in mobile apps adopting them.

Enterprise Apps – The Next Gold Rush

[tweetable]Enterprise apps are already the safest bet in the app economy and they’re only just getting started[/tweetable]. 67% of mobile app developers primarily target consumers and 11% target professionals directly. The 16% of developers who target enterprises are twice as likely to be earning over $5k per app per month and almost 3 times as likely to earn more than $25k per app per month.


Penetration of enterprises with mobile devices and solutions is already broad but not yet deep. Currently iOS appears to be winning the battle for enterprise adoption and revenues. Yet many developers are focusing on the wrong platform with 10% more enterprise developers targeting Android than iOS. Although enterprise apps have been a historical strength for them, Microsoft and BlackBerry are seeing very weak adoption for their new platforms amongst enterprise developers due to lack of demand from enterprises.

This battle is in the very early stages. Microsoft is re-focussing on their core competence in productivity software while Apple and Google move rapidly to embrace enterprises. Google’s integration of Samsung’s Knox platform into the Android platform is a major step forward. Meanwhile Apple’s new partnership with IBM gives them a strong proposition in all the major vertical markets. These moves will undoubtedly drive greater adoption of mobile technology in enterprises and create countless opportunities for developers to help re-think the way we work.

For more information, download the full Developer Economics Q3 2014: State of the Developer Nation report and check out the war between the European and the Asian app economy.



Confessions of a BlackBerry developer

The BlackBerry developer initiative

It’s been almost 2 years since the first beta release of the BlackBerry 10 SDK. Back then, RIM decided to launch the “happy developer” initiative, which was comprised of two parts. The first was targeted at some of the largest software houses and the second, at the long tail of developers. The first part was successful, since most of the big software houses are now supporting BlackBerry10 either by building native apps or by porting their existing Android apps into BlackBerry World.


The second part of the initiative, which was aimed at indie developers and hobbyists, is a different story. It seems to me that BlackBerry tried their best, shipping beta devices all over the world, getting the developer relations team on the road, in order to help developers face-to-face, giving incentives like the 10k$ commitment (money that was delivered every month, just as promised), and, most importantly, engaging with all developer communities or individuals from around the world 24/7.

The need for change

BlackBerry went through some difficult times during the past 2-3 years. The company seemed to be unable to get it right, and the negative media attention wasn’t helping. The BlackBerry 10 launch was not as successful as the company would have liked.. The legacy BlackBerry devices were outselling BlackBerry 10 devices quarter after quarter,..
A change was sorely needed in the company’s direction and plans. Cue John Chen. Once Chen was named CEO he brought a whole new set of ideas to BlackBerry, and a new plan of action.
Success comes after a company becomes viable and profitable at the same time. Under the new leadership, BlackBerry started adhering to timetables and deadlines and showing all signs of following a specific plan.

There’s just one thing that did not change, and that’s their commitment to developers. Yes, they are shorter on staff (the developer relations team was merged into another team under Martyn Mallick), the VP of Developer Relations, Alec Saunders, is now in charge of QNX cloud, aka Project ION. But the tools are still getting updates, and the roadmap, which is more important in my opinion, is active, showing that there is a plan for the BlackBerry 10 platform. BB 10.3 is now just around the corner new devices are on the way, and the future looks a little brighter for a company that went through hard times but now looks ready for a comeback!


There’s also been a change in the central message that BlackBerry is attempting to communicate to developers. When BlackBerry 10 was first introduced, this message was “Flow-Connect-Extend”. It was all about the core basics of the new platform.

For the 10.2 update the message was changed to “Adapt-Sense-Understand”. BlackBerry had more features available for developers, such as headless mode (i.e. apps running in the background), and use of geolocation in apps. Now this message has changed once again, and it’s all about the Internet of Things (project ION). We still don’t know too many details, but it has to do with big data in a secure environment (QNX cloud) that can be used by developers to create a whole new breed of apps.

The decision

Back to reality. As a developer targeting BlackBerry 10 myself, I realize that publishing an app is a twofold process.
The first step is developing the app. BlackBerry offers a completely risk-free environment, with fully engaged support and tool options. During the past couple of years, the SDK has been updated many times, each cycle an improvement over the previous one.

The second part is what comes after publishing the app. This is where success/time spent in part 1, takes place. Success means different things to different people. It might be measured in terms of money earned, number of downloads or even a high rating for their app in the BlackBerry World app store. The truth is that developers don’t have many tools at their disposal to reach their goal, whatever that may be, and BlackBerry’s current status in the top markets is not helping improve this situation..

But what about the countries and regions in which BlackBerry is still a best-selling handset manufacturer, such as Indonesia, South Africa, Nigeria and the Middle East? It might not be as easy as it sounds to target specific markets. Let’s take a look at the distribution of downloads and revenues around the globe (I’m using my own app as an example).

Downloads vs. Revenue maps of a freemium app with more than 125k downloads (May 2013 – May 2014)


It’s clear that BlackBerry has to improve its standing in major markets. Many think the main reason for low device sales in key countries is the lack of apps – but maybe it’s actually the other way around. Perhaps we have a formula that looks something like this: device sales -> more users -> more profit for developers -> more developers -> more apps
At the end of the day, engaging with BlackBerry is going to be a personal decision. There are some important parameters still missing from the BlackBerry platform, which might be keeping many developers from migrating to, or at least adopting, BB 10. A lot of these parameters, however, are not strictly related to actual development, i.e. coding.

But developers should keep two important factors in mind: BlackBerry 10 is still one of the newest OSs out there, which means there’s a lot of room for growth. Also – BlackBerry still is, and will continue to be, a leader in enterprise solutions, which is translated as a strong brand name. This combination indicates that there’s potential for BB10.

If I were to give developers some advice on whether to adopt the platform, I would say go for it. Built it or bring it – i.e. either go native or bring over your Android app. The tables may turn sooner than you think.


Which top platforms are easiest to develop for?

In the mobile software world, developers are considered vital to the health of platforms, of which they have several to choose from. Platform owners have to work very hard to make sure their SDKs and tools are easy to use. Too much friction, too little documentation or too steep a learning curve can drive developers away. Which platforms are the easiest to develop for? More importantly, does ease of development translate into popularity? Or is it just a hygiene factor?


A lesson from history

Mobile platforms have not always tried to make things easier for developers. Before the iPhone, Symbian dominated the smartphone market and had a policy of making developers jump through hoops to ensure both the resource efficiency of apps and the security of the platform. Nokia tried to add a developer friendly layer on top of the OS with Qt but it was too little too late to capture developer attention, even with an existing large installed base. So, a terrible developer experience can ruin a platform’s chances but does greater ease of development lead to success?

Interpret with caution

In our last developer economics survey we asked developers how easy it was to use a common set of APIs on their primary platform. Before diving into the data, there are some caveats:

  1. Comparison between platforms is slightly unfair because the API categories are broad and not all platforms will enable access to the same level of functionality
  2. Not all developers target multiple platforms, so some do not have a good basis for determining ease of use (although purely subjective ratings are still valid for comparison)
  3. The APIs that were included in the survey primarily focus on native functionality, so this comparison in somewhat unfair on HTML5
  4. The APIs do not include UI functionality and building the UI is a significant part of the work in most mobile apps.

Bearing those points in mind, below is what developers think of their platforms.

Easy != Popular

Our data shows that the challenger platforms, BlackBerry 10 and Windows Phone are the easiest to develop for, with BlackBerry 10 having a slight lead. In the middle are the leading platforms, iOS and Android, with iOS fractionally easier to develop for overall but with Android having several APIs where it leads.

In a distant last place we have HTML5, suggesting that it’s still very difficult to build apps that take advantage of uniquely mobile features with web technologies. In this regard it’s interesting that the recently appointed CTO of Mozilla, Andreas Gal has this to say:

“For Mozilla, anything that the Web can’t do, or anything that the Web is not faster and better at than native technologies, is a bug. We should file it in our Bugzilla system, so we can start writing a patch to fix it.”

There appear to be a few more entries for their Bugzilla system above. Web technology has matured a long way and makes it very easy to develop web sites across a wide range of screens – mobile apps are not the same thing and pose a different set of challenges.

To answer the question we posed at the beginning, it seems that ease of development is mostly a hygiene factor. The top platforms are not the easiest to develop for. BlackBerry 10 seems to have surprisingly high levels of continuing loyalty amongst developers despite the very poor sales for the platform to date, so perhaps there is some value in creating an environment developers really love to work with rather than one that is simply not painfully difficult.

The next frontier?

As we move towards a world of connected sensors everywhere and wearable devices are being hyped as the next big thing, an interesting sidenote is that Bluetooth was rated as the hardest API to use by developers across all platforms. After years of failing to reach its potential, Bluetooth is emerging as one of the key technologies enabling smartphones to talk to wearables and other external devices without sufficient power to maintain their own permanent internet connection. Perhaps this is an area for all platforms to consider revisiting, or an opportunity for an Internet of Things platform provider to abstract away the details.