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Current development trends in software engineering

Every year we conduct two global, independent developer surveys engaging more than 30,000 developers. We track development trends across platforms, revenues, apps, tools, languages etc. The 18th Developer Economics survey ran from November 2019 to February 2020 with more than 17,000 developers and tech-makers participating, allowing us to analyze and understand development trends on major areas such as mobile, cloud, desktop, IoT, web, augmented and virtual reality, machine learning and games. 

It’s no secret that we are data-enthusiasts. Data is in our DNA.

After each survey wave, we transform these data into graphs and insights and offer part of them as resources to our developer community. Our methodology is founded on 9 essential and non-negotiable qualities:  magnitude, impartiality, inclusivity, consistency, substantive, engagement, diligence, confidence and breadth. See more on how our methodology allows us to understand and profile developers.

Our goal is not only to help the world understand developers but also to add value to all the developers out there, by offering them the necessary insights to benchmark themselves and make smarter business decisions based on current development trends.

So let’s have a look at what our developers are saying, shall we?

Starting from some basic insights, it is important to know in which age group our respondents belong: 35% of developers worldwide are between 25 and 34 years old. The second largest demographic – almost 28%- is the young developers, aged 18 to 24 years old. 

What age group are you in?

Development trends

Just over half of our respondents reported having less than 5 years of coding experience. As our research covers both professionals and amateurs such as hobbyists and students, the experience mix makes perfect sense and is representative of the coding skills of the global developer population. We find that the young and relatively inexperienced are the first to jump into emerging sectors drawn by the hype, and they play a key role in their evolution.

How many years have you been working on software projects?

Development trends

Focusing on programming language preferences of mobile and backend developers, we find that Java is the third option for backend developers, while the most popular choice of mobile developers. The first choice of backend developers is instead Javascript with over half using it for cloud development. 

Which programming languages do you use to write code that runs on the device in your mobile apps?

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Which programming languages do you use to write code that runs on the server?

development trends

When it comes to front-end frameworks or libraries for web applications most programmers use jQuery (49.7%) and Bootstrap (48%). Other frameworks our respondents stated they’re using are React (42.9%), Vue (28%) and Angular (2+) (25.2%). 

What about trends in augmented and virtual reality (AR/VR)? Almost half of the developers working on AR/VR use C#. Moreover, as is typical of a still-emerging sector, almost 60% of respondents said they are hobbyists in this field.
Last but not least game development. Developers mostly prefer to create adventure and action game apps with 44% of respondents choosing each of these. 36% create Arcade games while almost 23% choose Role Playing or Strategy games.

Which categories do your games fit in?

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For more insights from our latest survey, you can check out the Developer Economics graphs dashboard. It’s also a great opportunity to benchmark yourself against the global average. 

Looking for a more thorough report analysing the developer population and trends? Download our next State of the Developers Nation report 18th Edition. You will find it here.


How much does it cost to create a successful app?

The app stores contain a range of apps from hobbyist creations built for fun to the carefully crafted output of venture backed startups and mega-corporations that have had millions of dollars spent on their development.

05 App Profit & Loss 2014

Even though the market is maturing and exceptionally well-funded developers have taken over the store charts, the occasional small independently developed app that goes viral can still break through and achieve a decent level of success. The question is, how likely is a small budget developer to succeed? What platforms give them the best chance of success? Where should the budget be spent? With all the competition out there, how much does a bigger budget improve your chances of turning a profit?

What are the odds?

In order to look at how budget can impact profitability it’s worth calibrating by the average chances of making a profit on each platform.

The figures in this chart are probably more positive than most industry observers would expect. Looking at the data it seems likely that many solo developers have valued their time at zero when reporting costs. For hobbyists and explorers, working in their spare time this might make rational sense. They don’t expect to be paid for the time anyway and their small app profits more than cover their other development costs. This is reflected in the slightly lower level of Android developers losing money versus iOS (there are far more hobbyists on Android than iOS).

Leading platforms

On the most popular platforms – iOS, Android and HTML5 – there’s a general correlation between spending more on an app and making more revenue. However, not all spending produces equal results. Spending more on development only slightly increases the chances of making a profit, while increased spending on design and marketing are strongly correlated with higher probability of making significant profits. Higher spending on customer service is almost always associated with greater profit probability but here the causation is almost certainly in the other direction; successful apps incur greater customer service costs because they have a lot of customers! These platforms show very similar patterns but they aren’t identical. The biggest difference between them is that spending more on design for HTML5 apps seems to produce much less of a boost to profit probability than for either of the leading native app platforms.

The second tier

BlackBerry 10 and Windows Phone show similar patterns of spending versus profit probability that are very different from the leading platforms. For small amounts of spending, there are similar patterns to the leading platforms. More investment, greater chance of a profit, with better returns from design and marketing spend. However, before reaching a level that would sustain a full-time designer or developer, the trend reverses; investing large amounts in any aspect of apps for these platforms reduces the probability of a profit and increases the chances of making a loss. This suggests that these platforms have not yet reached sufficient scale in terms of app revenues to sustain many highly complex or polished apps.

Opportunities everywhere

On the leading platforms, developers with budgets in the multiple thousands of dollars a month have roughly twice the chance of turning a profit on their apps as those spending minimal amounts. Even at lower spending levels, the probability of breaking even or better is reasonably high across all platforms, particularly for those investing in design and marketing. While it’s clear that only some of the platforms discussed above are likely to support scalable app businesses at the moment, there are plenty of opportunities to build profitable apps on any these top 5 platforms.

Want to know more?

I’ve only scratched the surface of our data here. What scale of profit or loss can be expected on different platforms with different levels of investment? Are there optimal investment levels to maximize the chances of success? Which app categories are most likely to product a profit. What do successful app development companies look like at different sizes? All this and more is covered in our App Economy report.


Is Android First Really a Myth?

Popular perception in the tech press is that iOS gets all the best apps first. With Android market share beginning to dwarf that of iOS globally, there’s lots of speculation around when developers will switch to Android first. Our data shows iOS is still the priority for startups in the U.S. but that doesn’t necessarily apply outside the high-growth consumer app market, or elsewhere around the globe.


The importance of platform priority

Just over a week ago, Steve Cheney wrote the very widely shared “Why Android First is a Myth”. The post makes some well-reasoned points about an important issue for the future of the smartphone market. One of the things that makes iOS attractive to a significant subset of early adopters is that it gets most apps ahead of other platforms, sometimes exclusively. [tweetable]If most developers start targeting Android ahead of iOS then those users will switch platforms, taking their app and service spending with them[/tweetable]. Where the early adopters go, most of the rest of the market will eventually follow. As such, developer priorities are considered an early indicator of platform fortunes, particularly at the high end. So if, as Steve suggests, iOS is set to dominate Android in this area for many years yet then Apple will keep making the bulk of the profit in the smartphone market. So is he right?

Silicon Valley doesn’t dominate apps globally

The major problem with the “Why Android First is a Myth” argument is that it is incredibly Silicon-Valley-centric. Whilst the two major smartphone platforms may be developed in Silicon Valley and dominate globally, the content and services used on them does not follow that pattern. Although there are lots of apps in common between U.S. and European app store top charts, there’s still plenty of highly ranked local content in most countries. Looking at the top grossing charts of massive smartphone markets like South Korea, Japan & China, U.S. users would struggle to recognise the name of any publisher (major exceptions being Supercell and from Finland and the U.K. respectively). Not only is the assumption that the apps that make a platform attractive are going to come from the U.S. (or even “the West”) flawed, the assumption that they’ll primarily come from “sophisticated startups” is as well.

Mobile messaging services provide a good example. While VC funded startups may be the way many new services get built in the U.S., WhatsApp being a typical case, the global competition is rather different. KakaoTalk comes from a startup of sorts, although founded by a former CEO of Korea’s internet giant NHN, while LINE came from the Japanese subsidiary of that same Korean internet giant. WeChat comes from Tencent, China’s largest internet company and one of the biggest in the world. It’s more than just how the apps get funded and built though, it’s the types of apps too. The breadth and depth of the app offering on a platform is essential to have all the apps that are important to any individual user, whether it be an app from their bank or niche apps catering to their interests. Otherwise the Windows Phone strategy of paying for the most popular apps to be ported would be a lot more successful. As Paul Graham says, VC funded startups are all about growth, so they have to address issues that they believe are relevant to very large markets. They don’t build more niche or local apps and they don’t build the essential extensions of existing services to mobile devices. This suggests that the platform preferences of a much wider range of developers are important, not just the “sophisticated” startup developers.

Global platform preferences

With this in mind, VisionMobile has a great source of data for monitoring this important platform priority trend. Our regular Developer Economics surveys ask thousands of developers to rank the platforms they use in priority order. Just looking at the data from the last survey on which platforms are most frequently cited as primary by developers in each country we can see strong geographic patterns.

[tweetable]In almost all countries there are a significant fraction of developers who treat Android as their primary platform[/tweetable] and overall the number of developers with iOS and Android as primary platform is almost exactly even. This is biased by a large number of Hobbyists and Explorers* who overwhelmingly prefer Android, largely because it costs less to get started and the platform is more open. As such, iOS still leads by a decent margin (39% vs 32%) amongst those full time developers trying to build or grow businesses. However, this is not true everywhere with South America being dominated by mobile web developers and most of Asia ruled by Android. Europe is fairly evenly split between the two platforms. Most countries’ developer populations follow local user preferences with a slight bias towards iOS. A major exception is Russia, where iOS penetration is low but developers have an unusually high preference for the platform – this is not just outsourced development either; good technical education, a low cost of living and access to affluent global markets seems to be a great combination for smaller independent developers too.

What about startups?

Finally, if we’re purely talking about startups (or Gold Seekers in our segmentation) then iOS is clearly preferred to Android in North America. Out of those with iOS or Android as their primary platform, 70% are iOS first versus the 30% starting with Android. By the same metric, Asia has a 66% majority of Android first startups and Europe is split 50/50. Although our data set for this particular segment might not be large enough to be comprehensive, it’s clear that “Android First” developers are far from mythical!

If you work in a startup cluster and don’t agree with our numbers then please leave us a comment.

* Explorers are part time mobile app developers with a different day job – for more information on developer segments and their preferences see our segmentation report.