So… is HTML really a programming language?

Earlier this year we polled more than 13,000 developers during our biannual Developer Economics survey (updating now), and 11% of those developers told us that HTML is their primary development language – that’s Hypertext Markup Language to the uninitiated. This response immediately begs the question: can HTML really be considered a “programming language” at all, or if we should consign to being a tool for the layout of JavaScript functions?


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Developers answering our survey were asked to pick from a list of languages, HTML5 was on that list, along with JavaScript and more-traditional languages including C and Java. Most programmers work in more than one language, so perhaps those who selected HTML5 as their primary language really meant that they were JavaScript programmers who used a lot of HTML? It’s a nice thought, but the idea breaks down when look at those additional languages and see that only 13% of those who said their primary language was HTML admitted to also using JavaScript, so how are these people creating applications?

14% said they also use ActionScript, which can also come wrapped in HTML, but 12% of those primarily using HTML said they also program in C/C++, which is a combination we’re unlikely to see in the same project.

HTML was never designed as a programming language – the original 18 tags permitted the most-basic of layout options. The only interesting tag was the hyperlink itself; the revolutionary concept that created the web as we now know it, the rest are trivial. HTML was based, loosely, on SGML, which is another bastard offspring of XML – the eXtensible Markup Language – but the key word across these is “markup”: all three are intended to provide syntactical data to accompany textual information*, not applications as we know them.

But HTML has come a very long way since then, and has capabilities we would normally associate with a development language. Drag and Drop, Geolocation, and Local Storage, are blurring the line between applications and web sites, allowing cross-platform development where the only way to spot the difference is the title bar at the top of the window (and sometimes not even then), and there are a host of applications which bear testament to the fact that HTML can be used to create real applications.

Zero Lines JS is a fine example. A graphical game, requiring the player to navigate their ship between approaching enemies at increasing speed to a suitably-irritating soundtrack. It might not be the next Watch Dogs, or even the next Candy Crush Saga, but it would be hard to deny that it is a real application and one which (as the name infers) is written entirely in HTML with a few Cascading Style Sheets (CSS).

Less gaudy is the aptly named “You Don’t Need JavaScript for That”, which demonstrates various techniques to accomplish programmatical tasks without recourse to programming languages. Examples include a tabbed panel (bringing content to the front based on the selected tab) and an image slideshow, all done entirely in HTML5.

Purists will moan, of course, that these examples don’t make it a “real” programming language, that HTML is nothing more than a markup language made to enrich documents, and there was a time when that was true. Developers aren’t as hierarchal as they used to be, but those closer to the metal still look down on those who’ve traded an intimate knowledge of the hardware for speed of development. C programmers consider objects to be unnecessary fluff, but concur with users of C++ that anything which isn’t run through a compiler is just improper (and that includes Java with its bytecode nonsense). Java programmers consider anything without proper encapsulation to be faking its object orientation, while JavaScript developers see no reason for strong typing, and consider HTML to be a layout tool.

Meanwhile those versed in Assembler look down from their ivory towers, stroke their beards, and concur that when performance really matters they will always get the gig.

But despite being at the bottom of the heap we can see that HTML5 is being used to create applications, and it must therefore be considered a programming language. We might argue whether validating a filled-out form constitutes an application, but when you can crash a spaceship into an oncoming armada then there’s little room for discussion.

At Vision Mobile we’re currently updating our survey, asking developers what language and tools they’re now using, including those who choose to program in HTML. It will be interesting to see if an increasing number think that the layout tool has evolved, or if a momentary fad is passing. Take a look at the survey, and use the feedback from at the end to let us know how you feel about HTML being included in the list of languages, and what you think might end up on that list next time.

* To be accurate, XML is intended to be a framework from which one can derive markup languages, but that’s not really pertinent here.


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Languages Platforms Tools

Why JavaScript will win on mobile

JavaScript is not the world’s most elegant programming language. So much so that one of the world’s top experts on the language wrote a book about “The Good Parts”. The book carries the headline “Unearthing the Excellence in JavaScript” because that excellence is quite deeply buried. Even so, it has rapidly become one of the most popular languages in the world. That popularity is deserved, because despite the flaws in the language, JavaScript gives developers significant advantages that they can’t get with other languages. Some of those advantages were created when browser vendors agreed to standardise on JavaScript (OK, technically ECMAScript) as the language for the web. Others are inherent to the web app programming model and more yet have been created through tooling enhancements. However, despite the fact that native apps are dominating web apps on mobile devices, JavaScript’s advantages are steadily transferring to mobile. Will it eventually dominate there too?


Popularity not priority

The latest TIOBE Community Index has JavaScript in 6th place amongst all programming languages and rising. The TIOBE method of ranking tends to favour older, more established languages and is not so quick to pick up trends. By contrast, the Redmonk rankings have JavaScript in first place. The Redmonk method is somewhat biased towards languages with strong open source communities but more accurately reflects current interest and trends. Our own Developer Economics surveys have shown that [tweetable]HTML5/JavaScript combination is the second most popular language amongst mobile developers[/tweetable] with 55% using it, just narrowly behind Java (at 57%). However, even if we combine those who prioritise HTML5 and JavaScript (19%), they’re still a long way behind Java (29%) on this metric. It seems likely this is going to shift significantly over the next few years. [What do you think? We have a new survey out, so take the survey and let us know your thoughts]

JavaScript breaking free from the browser

This is not a standard “the web will win” argument. I don’t believe that browser or webview-based apps will eventually dominate on mobile devices. Use will grow but they won’t be the norm. If true open web standards are to dominate in the future then they need to move on from the Document Object Model (DOM). The DOM is a base for building documents, not apps. Of course you can build an app around a platform originally designed for documents but you’re starting from a position of handicap. Look at the modern frameworks that allow you to build fairly performant apps for mobile browsers/webviews: React.js, and Ionic. All three share the common feature of touching the DOM as little as possible.

Yes, there’s WebGL (or HTML5 Canvas if you must) too but those are low level graphics APIs. You need large, probably multi-megabyte, frameworks on top to create a good platform for building most apps. That’s not a good fit for the web app programming model, where the latest application code lives on a remote server, particularly not in a mobile environment. It’s true that you could have a hybrid app with a large framework on top of WebGL stored locally and just fetch the application specific code from the server but then why use the browser at all? Why not just JavaScript on top of some other cross-platform framework built for hardware graphics acceleration (hint: Qt has a nice offering here). One with a higher level API so there’s not so much overhead bridging between languages. Perhaps also one that’s less restricted when it comes to accessing device specific functionality.

There are now a couple of really interesting new options that fit this description, React Native and NativeScript. These work in different ways but both build apps with a native UI using JavaScript. Appcelerator’s Ti.Next may also be interesting, although they’ve been talking about it for a couple of years without an actual release yet, so we’ll wait and see.

The JavaScript exception

Here is where Apple has restored JavaScript’s advantage on mobile. A key thing that has prevented most developers from adopting an agile, web-style continuous delivery model on mobile is Apple’s ban on code downloading. Without that iteration is significantly slowed and split testing is much harder to do. This effectively means developers, particularly startups, learn slower. Until very recently, the only ways to get more rapid iteration were to go Android first, or build a hybrid app, since Apple made JavaScript downloaded in a webview an exception to the code downloading rule. In the first case it means moving away from the platform with the most early adopters. Unfortunately in the second case the UX trade-offs are too great, with most developers that went that route for a consumer app failing or switching to native. But in iOS 7 Apple added the JavaScriptCore interface to their own JavaScript runtime and in the latest iOS Developer Program License Agreement they modified the exception to code downloading rules to include JavaScriptCore.

This makes sense from a security perspective. Apple can audit and update their own runtimes, whereas if they allow 3rd party runtimes to download code they have no effective way of monitoring or dealing with security issues. Since JavaScript is Apple’s only scripting option and they can’t allow native code downloading, JavaScript is restored to a privileged position – the only option for those that want to iterate fast. The availability of JavaScriptCore triggered efforts like React Native and NativeScript and the timing of Apple’s relaxation of the code downloading policy has been perfectly timed for their public release.

Will open win?

Web advocates sometimes suggest that the open-standards-based web must eventually win because open always wins in the end. However, Linux is a very clear case where an open ecosystem thrives without a committee agreeing standards. With React Native, Facebook appears to be very rapidly building a developer ecosystem around their open source project. Already having a rapidly growing community around React.js obviously gives them a headstart but the NativeScript team at Telerik are working with Google such that Angular 2.0 should integrate seamlessly. Google are going to support non-DOM environments whether the web standards go in that direction or not. Microsoft and Google might take a long time to agree on the standards they’ll implement in their future browser versions but they’re working together on TypeScript, to make it easier to build complex apps with JavaScript (it turns out compilers are much better than people at spotting type mismatches).

Apple has built some fairly impressive tooling for their new Swift language, particularly the interactive playgrounds. However, Facebook possibly already has a better developer experience with React Native in terms of immediate feedback and rapid cycle times whilst coding. Apple will continue to iterate on that tooling alone, whilst the developer community can now enhance the tooling for these new JavaScript environments. Android may technically be open source but it’s not open in terms of community contribution. Google are enhancing the Android platform and tooling alone. [tweetable]Perhaps it’s really open developer communities that win[/tweetable] and genuine open source based communities can iterate faster than open standards based ones. For these “native UX built with JavaScript” environments to succeed, the platforms don’t have to lose. Apps will still be tailored to the platform look and feel and adopt new platform-specific APIs.

Javascript will win on mobile.

At the moment it looks like the very open JavaScript developer community will win because they get to build apps with native look, feel and performance but a web-style development experience. The closed platforms also win because apps are still being tailored for their captive ecosystems. For now, open web standards lose. It seems likely they can only win if the mobile browser vendors can agree to new standards that enable the creation of apps that genuinely offer an equivalent experience to native ones.

Update: Where we right in our predictions? Here is a latest update on the popularity of Javascript.

What do you use?

Do you think JavaScript will dominate on mobile in the future? Or Java, Objective-C and Swift will continue to lead? What about for the Internet of Things, or on the backend via Node.js? Let us know what you’re building your apps with by taking our survey.


How Soon Is Now For The Mobile Web?

This may be the year when the mobile web apps finally go mainstream. Or, at least, their hybrid cousins will.


Not because the technology will finally be ready. For most apps, it already is. Rather, the web will finally hit the big time with mobile apps precisely because we’ll talk about it less and use it more.

Time for HTML5
Oh, sure, there are good reasons for the mobile web to finally hit its stride. Sencha’s Nick Harlow offers five:

  1. High quality WebViews are now available on most platforms (and getting dramatically better thanks to Apple’s new WKWebView in iOS 8). While low-quality WebViews persist within the Android device base, on balance things are looking up;
  2. Broad platform support is only economically feasible using web tech;
  3. Web tech bridges the desktop-mobile divide;
  4. Using web tech helps to simplify application management and security; and
  5. Device fragmentation is accelerating. The web helps developers keep up

But before we herald the future of hybrid, it’s worth pointing out that some believe that future is already here. As EmberJS co-creator Tom Dale tells me, “”The dirty little secret of native [app] development is that huge swaths of the UIs we interact with every day are powered by web technologies under the hood.”

While Dale may be getting ahead of himself – [tweetable]the reality is that the web still has a long way to go to achieve mass-market app adoption[/tweetable], and maybe constitutes 10% of apps within the app stores – the trends do point toward more hybrid apps, especially among the enterprise set. VisionMobile’s own survey data shows that today 30% of developers are using some kind of cross-platform tool, of which 60% are using PhoneGap.

This is great, but it doesn’t obviate the need for the mobile web to get better to erase complaints about performance. And it will.

Getting better all the time
Summarizing the Google Chrome Developer Summit, Divshot CEO Michael Bleigh says, “Google is doing everything it can to get mobile web to 60fps, which gives you about 16ms per frame to do everything you need to do. It’s hard to even enumerate all the different ways they’re working on this.” Speed will bolster web app performance, perhaps eliminating the “jank” that many associate with web apps.

But it’s not just about accelerating the mobile web.

We also need to rethink how we approach mobile web apps, as Ionic (based on Google’s AngularJS) and React Native (from Facebook) do. While the latter is not “web technology,” strictly speaking, these frameworks are actively advancing the state of the art for web apps.

The result, as Mozilla (and longtime native app) developer James Long puts it, is impressive:

It only takes a few minutes playing with React Native to realize the potential it has. This works. It feels like I’m developing for the web. But I’m writing a real native app, and you seriously can’t tell the difference. At the UI level, there is no difference; these are all native UIViews beautifully sliding around like normal.

Indistinguishable from native performance… but with a far more accessible development platform. That’s powerful.

A question of competence
But let’s be clear: [tweetable]if your development team isn’t any good, it really doesn’t matter which development platform they choose[/tweetable]. A bad iOS programmer is going to lose every time to a good HTML5/web programmer, and vice versa.

Indeed, one of the primary problems with the web is that it so dramatically lowers the bar to development that virtually anyone with Javascript and CSS skills can build a mobile app.

A lame one, that is.

Mobile developer Nic Raboy nails this:

All my applications, native and hybrid, have mostly positive reviews and if you visit the apps on Google Play, you’ll see no reviews include mention about how the application was crafted. This is an important thing to notice because many haters will attack developers on the idea that hybrid applications do not perform or look as good as native applications. This is simply not true. Native or hybrid, if the developer or designer is no good, the application will suffer regardless.

So as fantastic as advancements like AngularJS and ReactJS will be for web app development, they’re not going to be enough if developers underinvest in learning them. There are already exceptional hybrid apps like Instagram that demonstrate what strong developers can do with the web. We just need more of them.

Or maybe what we need is better tools.

That’s one primary takeaway from VisionMobile’s “How Can HTML5 Compete With Native?” report. As report author Dimitris Michalakos concludes, “The question is no longer *whether* HTML5 can produce quality apps, but *how* easy it is to create quality web apps.” Given that “HTML5 is like driving a car without a dashboard,” the key is to deliver better dashboards, or tools, to make it easier to build great web apps.

This involves significant improvements to the debugging, profiling, and memory management tools available, but it’s also something the web frameworks can help with.

As such, it increasingly looks like a question of WHEN, not IF, mobile web apps will take off.

And the answer to that question is either “now”, if you’re paying attention to how developers actually build apps today, or soon, if you’re waiting for them to start talking about the fact that they’re building with the web.


Cross Platform Apps – Qt vs. HTML5

Although building a separate native app per platform is currently proving to be the most successful approach for mass market consumer apps, there are still a lot of situations where it makes more sense to go cross-platform. In this article we’ll look at the most popular option, hybrid web apps built with HTML5, versus an up-and-coming challenger, Qt.


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Why Qt?

Those who know the history of Qt may be surprised to see it described as “up and coming”. Qt was originally designed for building cross-platform desktop apps, it’s creators started working on it in 1994! However, Qt became interesting for mobile development after Nokia bought Trolltech, the company developing Qt at the time, and invested heavily into making it the ideal toolkit for building mobile apps. Unfortunately, Nokia was making this strategic decision shortly before the iPhone launched (the acquisition was completed afterwards). This changed the game from building apps for devices with numeric keypads and Qwerty keyboards, to large touch-screen based devices. The former Trolltech engineers recognised that they needed a very different way of creating apps for Nokia’s offering to compete.

When Steve Jobs said that the iPhone was 5 years ahead of the competition at launch, he was not far wrong. Android had managed to close some of that gap, probably due to executives at Google having some advanced warning about the iPhone. Unfortunately, Nokia eventually gave up on it’s own Qt based devices in favour of Windows Phone as the software efforts were taking too long and they were falling a long way behind in the ecosystem wars. They sold Qt to one of their major services company suppliers – Digia – who have recently established a fully-owned separate entity for the product, The Qt Company. Only after being fully disentangled from Nokia has Qt been able to return to its roots as a cross-platform framework and start supporting the major mobile platforms. However, in the mean time, others had seen the great foundation for mobile apps that Nokia’s investment created. As a result the BlackBerry 10, Jolla Sailfish, Ubuntu Mobile and Tizen platforms all have Qt as a core framework.

From a personal perspective, I re-wrote a popular iOS game for Symbian using Qt in early 2011. The UI design and general debugging tools were a bit immature at the time but it was one of the simplest learning curves and most pleasant development experiences I’ve had on any platform (note: I was not paid to say that), even though the core of Qt is using the less than developer friendly but high performance C++. I was able to achieve smooth 60fps performance on some rather low-spec hardware. It was easy enough to learn their new UI technology, Qt Quick, and build the menu screens for the game with it in a couple of days.

Why HTML5, or why not?

HTML5 is the most popular option for developers building cross-platform mobile apps, however, it appears to be falling out of favour a little. Web browsers and web views are available on every platform and web developers are able to transfer their skills from building websites to building mobile apps. Open source frameworks like Cordova (PhoneGap) allow developers using HTML5 to access additional mobile specific functionality and make it easy to package apps in a native format for each platform. The added bonus is that you can usually have a version of your app on the web as well as in the app stores for minimal additional effort. HTML5 is generally more productive for building UI centric applications than native apps. There is also an embarrassment of riches when it comes to libraries and frameworks for building mobile web apps. Hybrid web apps are in the privileged position (on iOS at least) of being able to update their code directly, avoiding the App Store review process for all but major changes.


Given its ubiquity and large developer base, why isn’t HTML5 the default cross-platform approach? [tweetable]Despite many advantages, hybrid web app developers have been struggling with performance[/tweetable] (partly due to crippled or outdated webview implementations, an issue which has been fixed in the latest versions of iOS & Android, although this will take a while to penetrate the entire installed base). There is also an issue with varying levels of support for standards across mobile browsers (again, this is something that’s improving but not entirely fixed yet). Web technologies have also not really been designed for the highly animated UIs that are now expected by mobile users. This is something that the much hyped framework aims to resolve.

A number of very high profile consumer startups have publicly switched from web hybrid to native mobile app approaches. The most common reason stated for these switches has been lack of adequate tooling. It’s certainly possible to make web apps perform well on mobile devices within their limited memory budgets but with the current state of debugging and profiling tools, that’s still not an easy thing to do compared to producing native apps. This said, not all apps need flawless UI animations and we’re not comparing HTML5 with native, so lets look at how it goes head to head with Qt.

Qt vs. HTML5 – Pros & Cons

Supported platforms:

  • HTML5 is supported almost everywhere.
  • Qt is supported on all major platforms (and minor ones that happen to use it for their UI).

Although in theory you can target more platforms with HTML5, this is not how most developers are using it in the real world. [tweetable]HTML5 developers are increasingly abandoning the browser and building hybrid apps[/tweetable]. Most mobile developers are targeting some subset of Android, iOS, Windows Phone, Windows 8 and BlackBerry 10. Qt supports all of these and more. In fact, in practice our data shows that Qt developers actually target fractionally more platforms on average than HTML5 developers. As a result, this is basically a tie for most developers with a significant advantage to HTML5 for those who really want to run their software everywhere (feature phones, Smart TVs etc.).


Learning curve:
This one depends whether you’re already a web developer. If you are, learning to build mobile web apps is probably easier than learning Qt. However, if you’re new to either then Qt has significant advantages in terms of having one framework to learn rather than 10s of them to choose from before you even start. Qt also has great documentation, which isn’t necessarily true for all web frameworks. In a fair contest, this is a clear win for Qt.


  • HTML5 is open standards based and there are multiple open source implementations.
  • Qt is open source but dual licensed and effectively controlled by a single vendor.

Clearly HTML5 is more open than Qt. This isn’t always an advantage. The process of creating standards and getting multiple vendors to implement them is slow, Qt can be more agile. If you really need something fixed or a new feature added in open source you can do it yourself or pay someone to do it. If you need to support Internet Explorer and there’s an issue with it, you have to work around or wait for Microsoft. Then again, there’s no vendor lock-in with HTML5 and the web isn’t going anywhere. Someone else could buy Qt and take it in a direction that doesn’t align with your goals. Or they could just put the price up beyond your budget. HTML5 has the edge but it’s not a clear win.


  • Building for HTML5 is free. There are some non-essential paid tools that can help.
  • Qt requires a commercial license for most commercial use on mobile.

Qt’s open source licenses are not compatible with distribution on most app stores. Although the iOS port of Qt is developed in open source, you need a commercial license to ship apps in the store. The lowest cost subscription that allows developing mobile apps for the iOS & Android stores with Qt is $25/month. HTML5 wins.

Cross-platform compatibility:

  • HTML5 has multiple independent implementations of a standard.
  • Qt has one vendor implementing the same runtime on multiple platforms.

Multiple implementations, with several in open source and a large community reporting on and working around compatibility issues makes for a very robust platform. Even so, having a single vendor making sure all platforms behave in the same way is almost always better for compatibility of your app. Qt wins.


  • HTML5’s DOM was not built for modern mobile apps.
  • Qt Quick’s (QML) scene graph is built directly on top of OpenGL ES.

Both environments use JavaScript. However, with Qt it’s much easier to drop down to native code if you really need native platform functionality or performance. The performance penalties for switching between JavaScript and native code are much lower with Qt. The biggest difference however, is graphics performance. People looking for serious graphics performance with HTML5 resort to complex schemes to avoid touching the DOM as much as possible. Building the entire UI on top of WebGL seems like the most promising path to future performance, now that WebGL has much wider support (Apple adding this in iOS8 is key). Qt has a massive advantage here, it also has more extensive animation options than CSS3 for web app developers.

Native user experience:

  • With HTML5 you rely on either a 3rd party framework like Ionic or building your own clones of native interface elements.
  • With Qt you can use components that clone native interface elements, or use real native UI calls.

Being able to call native APIs in Qt potentially gives it the advantage here but in reality this loses cross-platform compatibility. In practice neither option is really well suited to situations where you need a genuinely native user experience. Both can emulate one adequately for a subset of possible apps. In general it’s best to use a cross-platform approach where a fully custom UI is needed, or a native look and feel is not essential.


Comparing across these metrics, Qt has a slight edge over HTML5. However, there are other metrics you could use that would give the opposite result. In practice the technology needs to be selected to fit the project. Both options have merits and if you’re an HTML5 developer who’s not already familiar with Qt’s offerings, they’re worth a look. I also didn’t mention that Qt apps can display HTML5 content in a webview, meaning that it doesn’t have to be one or the other, it can be both.


Which one do you prefer? Take the Developer Economics Survey and let us know.

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.



Benefits and Challenges of HTML5 App and Game Cross-Platform Development

HTML5 web app development had its ups and downs but it is undeniably one of the most promising technologies for the upcoming years. The best example can be found on desktop systems, where users are spending more time inside a browser than ever before.


Hundreds of traditionally native apps are turning into web apps as they provide advantages like interoperability, ubiquity and cross-platform. The features added in the new HTML5 standard allow a much more dynamic web content and the development of applications never before imaginable on the web, such as videogames, one of the most performance and resource demanding type of app. But this cross-platform promise is still in the making and it is key for developers to understand the benefits and challenges before committing to a fully web based approach. In this web Vs native controversy it is important to remember that [tweetable]the adoption of a technology should always be driven by the needs of the project to be developed[/tweetable].


In order to provide the most accurate view of the status of web based project development and make the right decision, let’ summarize the benefits of the web first to identify the opportunities it offers.


This is the main feature why developers have originally turned into web technologies looking to fulfil the promise of coding once and deploy everywhere. As some of the other advantages of the web, cross-platform is in its nature, as it is meant to run on any device (hardware) and operating system (software). The web can be accessed from a PC, Mac, laptop, desktop, mobile device, smart watch, car and even home appliance. We know one thing for sure about any futuristic new device: it will be able to access the web.

Content on demand

Many developers do not identify this feature as a benefit because they take it for granted as, once again, is in the nature of the web. But [tweetable]being able to provide content on user demand is one of the biggest benefits the web puts on the table[/tweetable]. Applications can easily vary and adapt with none or little effort from the developer perspective and new paradigms and user cases can be easily accomplished, like promoting the use of an app or a new feature while communicating with others. The messaging app Kik is a great example of an application that is showing the benefits of on demand web applications as provides its users with the option to run apps and games without having to leave the messaging environment.

Full technology stack

This is a feature that goes hand in hand with cross-platform as its goal is to ease the process of building a product for developers. Web technologies can be used full stack, from client to server, thanks to platforms like Node.js. Many products need a desktop based UI/UX and their mobile versions could be developed using the same technologies and reusing plenty of the same code. Same thing happens in the server side as many data structures and even algorithms can be reused speeding up development cycles, lowering possible mistakes and bugs and increasing maintainability in the long run.

Based on open standards

This is more important than meets the eye. There have been various technologies in the past that made the cross-platform promise but did not completely deliver. Amongst other reasons, they failed because of being closed and tied to a specific company. Open standards allow both vendors and developers to contribute and improve the final product. This is one of the key success factors of the web. There is no head controlling it so it can evolve according to the needs and interests of many.

Supported by big companies

The web is supported by the biggest technology companies in the world like Google, Amazon, Microsoft, Facebook, Samsung or Apple. Most well known and used browsers are developed by some of these companies that also are part of the standardization committee. This support is a good example of why the web is here to stay and why it will continue gaining momentum as a development platform.

Big developer community

The web is also driven by its developer community, one of the biggest as it involves front-end and back-end developers that are always providing new tools and support. Mobile is the frontier to conquer but there is no doubt the web has won on desktop environments. There is no company, product or service that doesn’t have presence on the web both directly or indirectly. This whole ecosystem of applications is developed by a thriving community of developers that not only need to understand the backend side of the equation but also how browsers and client side technologies work.


This feature might change the perception of the web for both apps and games. It provides access to high end graphics and to a more interactive web crossing the boundaries of 2D to enter the third dimension (and even improving the 2D experience with hardware accelerated graphics). All the big browsers support it out of the box now as the last two players, Internet Explorer and Safari, have finally committed themselves to promote it too.

The list of the benefits of the web could even be longer. After reading this set of features, the web could be the first (and maybe the only!) option when it comes to implement a project: be everywhere, anytime and with the the option of using the same technology full stack. But the truth is that web technologies are not widely used in many scenarios (specially when it comes to mobile).


Let’s review the main challenges that developers need to overcome and some tips on how to do it.

Cross-platform is more than devices and operating systems

It also involves markets, stores, destination sites, … deployment targets in the end.[tweetable] The holy grail of code once and deploy everywhere comes at a price: handling the particularities of each deployment scenario[/tweetable] can be tricky. Developers need to create accounts, understand the packaging details on each platform, install and learn how to use the tools provided, etc. There are some solutions in the market based on cloud services to be able to configure and deploy a product to different targets with simple to use interfaces taking all these burdens out of developers shoulders. Some examples of this kind of services are Intel’s XDK, Adobe’s PhoneGap Build and Ludei’s CocoonJS.

Cross-platform does not really mean same code or user interface/user experience

It is important that developers understand that cross-platform does not mean the same exact app will mandatorily be the one that will end up going to the different markets. Mobile devices have some inherent particularities like the different input method (touch screens) and limited screen resolutions that must be taken into account. Also, users on mobile are used to different set of interaction paradigms especially when it comes to social media integration or access to native features. [tweetable]A good advice is to think on mobile first if mobile is key for the product[/tweetable]. Mobile device memory, performance and feature limitations should also be taken into account. Having good tools for rapid prototyping, testing and debugging is also key. Many HTML5 app development frameworks provide tools for what is called responsive design. However, this challenge is still less of a problem compared to developing an app in different technologies (web for the desktop, Objective-C for iOS, Java for Android, C# for Windows Phone, …).

Browser feature fragmentation

Yes, the web is an open standard and that is a benefit, but the adoption of these standards rely on browser vendors that have their own agendas, as they are private companies in the end. Standardization takes time too and it is important to take that into account if a feature is a must inside a project. This situation leads to an API and feature fragmentation that has hurt the web application development from the origin of the internet (remember Internet Explorer Vs Netscape “browser wars”). Use of prefixes, incomplete or different implementation of some of the APIs, promotion of non standard ways of handling certain situations are just some of the examples of this challenge developers have to face. Vendors are improving their old day practices and the auto update of the browsers has helped a lot in order to allow users to benefit from the latest additions in a daily manner. There are also initiatives to mitigate the negative side-effects of these practices like some open source libraries to ease the handling of supposedly standard features, e.g. Modernizr. Still, this might be a challenge for some developers. On mobile, this problem is magnified as mobile operating systems (specially Android) and browsing technologies are still in their infancy. Technologies like Ludei’s WebView+ or Intel’s Crosswalk help overcoming this problems as they offer a unified execution environment regardless the Android operating system version. One less headache for developers.

Low performance, especially on mobile

Execution speed has been one of the main problems holding HTML5 back as a widely used cross-platform app and game development technology. Mobile has been the platform where this problem has been more notorious as mobile devices have more limited processing power. As hardware has evolved, the performance gap between mobile devices and desktop computers is shrinking. Improvements on browsing technologies has also helped on solving this issue. Still, the biggest problem related to performance is, once again, due to fragmentation. To be able to develop a native web application, the system webview element is used. The issue with the webview is that it’s tied to the OS version, so that the user needs to update the OS for the webview to get new features and updates. Android fragmentation makes the webview a poor choice when it comes to deploying HTML5-native hybrid apps. But there are solutions to this problem. Once again, projects like Crosswalk and Ludei provide a huge improvement in order to solve the performance issue. Actually, Ludei provides multiple options (WebView+ and Canvas+) to help on this matter depending on the type of project (a general purpose app or a canvas based game). The bottom line is that there are solutions for the performance problem that prove that HTML5 can be a good execution environment for cross-platform apps and games.

Access to the native features on each platform

The web, as many other technologies before it, because of its cross-platform nature could be limited in its access to platform-specific features. This is a fact and in many cases, a limitation. Either way, the huge support that the web has over the whole technology community makes it a primary target for the adoption of new products and technologies. Good examples of this are devices like the Leap Motion controller or the Oculus Rift VR Head Mounted Display. Thanks to new APIs like websockets, these completely over the edge technologies are present from day one on the web. A similar situation arise on mobile with an increasing need to access hardware features and many of the interesting APIs only available in the OS/native level. The good news are that browsing technologies are rapidly adopting these important features. Moreover, thanks to hybrid approaches, there are JS to native bindings that allow accessing any native feature from a web app. Cordova is the de facto standard for building these bindings called plugins. Literally, there is no limit on what can be accessed: In-App Payment APIs, Push Notifications, Advertisement SDKs, Social Network SDKs, and a long etcetera.

[tweetable]The benefits of HTML5 and the web are undeniable; the web is here to stay[/tweetable]. The devices of the future might support software languages like C, Java, Swift or a new language we’ve yet to see – but the common denominator will always be the web, a technology that has brought us together and has enabled a much richer communication and access to information. The true strength of the web and HTML5, its most recent standard, lies in its ubiquitousness and its flexibility. HTML5 has advantages and limitations, and knowing how to leverage the former and overcome the latter is what sets apart good from bad engineering teams. It’s just a matter of choosing the right tool for the right job.


Is HTML5 about to make a comeback?

The web is losing and apps are winning. At least that’s what the most recent data from Flurry says – 86% of time on mobile devices is spent in an app other than the browser, up from 80% last year. Does that really mean the web is losing? What about apps built with HTML5? Is the implementation technology more important than the distribution mechanism? Why should anyone care? A number of new tools and frameworks are maturing that should make it much easier to build great mobile sites and apps with HTML5. Could they stop the shift from web to native apps, or even reverse it?


Why the web is losing on mobile

Modern web browsers and standards were designed for a desktop computing environment and they built upon a base that was designed for sharing linked documents. Mobile computing environments have capabilities and constraints that desktops don’t. Native mobile app platforms were designed for building highly interactive, animated, apps utilising hardware graphics acceleration. The result is that apps running in a mobile browser are disadvantaged in terms of performance, user experience and access to device functionality versus their native counterparts.

The app is the new browser bookmark. People have favourite services and sources of information or entertainment even though a great deal of substitution is possible in most cases. Providers have to compete on user experience and that creates a bias towards native apps. You want to check the weather every day? You don’t search for a weather forecast every time, or find a favourite weather site and bookmark it, you download a weather app. Need to catch up with your friends on a social network? You don’t open the browser, type a URL or go to a bookmark and wait for the latest updates to download, you get update notifications pushed to you by the native social network app, or when you open the app it has already downloaded the latest content in the background. For frequently accessed apps, the native versions have much less friction, as well as a nicer user experience.

What about hybrid apps?

Delivering a web app in a native wrapper allows it to access device functionality and reduce some regular usage friction. However, it doesn’t fix performance (indeed on iOS it makes it worse), nor make it easier to deliver a great user experience. Another problem with delivering a packaged web app that uses a system WebView is that the functionality of the WebView itself can change with OS updates. Android recently switched to a new Chromium-based WebView and broke or crippled lots of hybrid apps. The flip-side to this problem is that WebViews upgrade slower than browsers; on Android the WebView is currently tied to OS upgrades (which are still lacking from most manufacturers) while the Chrome browser continuously auto-updates. This means it’s a long time before it’s feasible to start using new standards added to the browser specifically to tackle mobile issues. A hybrid app is also still subject to app store reviews and policies. It may be possible to update functionality without an app update in the store but the platform owner still controls what developers can and can’t do.

Another popular complaint about hybrid (and native) apps is the loss of ability to cross-link versus the web. I believe that Facebook’s recent App Links project puts all native apps (including hybrids) about on a par with web apps here. It may be possible to link to any web page but many modern web apps only have a single page. What’s actually needed with a web app rather than a web site is the ability to link to app states. This is only possible if the developer enables it by setting up routing for URLs to app states – native apps can already do this and App Links solves the “what if the app isn’t installed” problem with web fallbacks or store links. If platform providers enhance app interoperability then native (and hybrid) apps could significantly exceed the capabilities of the web here.

Engagement versus ease of access

As discussed above, any content or services you access frequently create less friction by providing native apps. Less friction enables more engagement and a virtuous cycle of greater usage. On the other hand, new or infrequently accessed content and services have extremely high friction if you need to download an app before you can do anything else. Here the web has significant advantages over native apps. The companies who really don’t get this are the ones that have a full screen popup asking you to download their app every time you visit their website on a compatible device! Another way to look at the Flurry stats linked at the top of the article is this: exclude games (which have almost always been native for performance) and social networking (which falls firmly into the frequent access category, plus a lot of the time will be using an in-app browser anyway) and the browser still has more than a third of the remaining mobile usage time. That doesn’t sound quite so bad.

New frameworks fill the gaps

With the threat of being relegated to the “infrequently accessed” category of apps, the web development community has not been sitting around doing nothing. A new framework recently into public beta,, attempts to solve the major performance problem for animated web app UIs. Their current approach is a series of clever hacks involving minimal manipulation of a very flat DOM structure. However their JavaScript APIs will also render to WebGL in future (when it’s sufficiently widely available, ahem, Apple). The approach is promising and the demos are impressive. Currently their homepage (on both my retina iPad Mini and Nexus 4) kinetic scrolls with a stutter that makes my 2006 Symbian device look slick, so there’s a way to go before they’re ready to come out of beta. Note that using JavaScript APIs starts to make building web apps look more like creating a native app.

Another framework close to its 1.0 release is Meteor, a new way to create real-time web apps very rapidly. They fix common issues with the responsiveness of web apps out of the box – having to poll the server for new data and wait for it to update the UI after user interaction. The latter is achieved with a technique called latency compensation (UI is updated with local data immediately, then fixed if the server returns something different). The former is down to having long-running bi-directional connections between client and server rather than a more traditional RESTful API. Meteor actually supports native client apps too but with the ease of creating the web front end it would be unusual for developers not to have both web and native options if they go down that route.

Although there are lots of new and interesting frameworks in development I’ll highlight just one more that’s in a fairly mature beta stage. Ionic is a framework designed specifically for building hybrid apps. It’s built for performance and to provide common UI components and interactions out of the box so it’s easy to make an app with a native feeling user experience. The default styling is very similar to, although deliberately not exactly like, iOS 7. The major disadvantage to this approach is that while it works on recent iOS and Android versions you lose the broader cross-platform and device compatibility. It’s not for building mobile websites or desktop web apps. As such Ionic is building on HTML5 purely as an implementation technology and abandoning the browser. However, as it’s still running in a WebView developers retain the privileged position of being allowed to download new code on iOS.

Native user experience

I listed performance and user experience as two separate issues for a good reason. Despite all the great efforts at resolving performance issues for web apps, native user experience is not just about performance. For some apps it’s natural to take over the full screen and provide an immersive user experience. Games fall into this category, unfortunately they’re also the category of app most in need of full native performance. The majority on non-game apps use some standard platform components and need to follow platform user experience conventions. This makes it easy for users to learn how a new app works; navigation and controls work in the same way as most of their other apps. In this sense when we say “native” user experience we mean aligned with the platform culture and conventions rather than compiled to native binary code. The folks at Ionic are right not to mimic iOS 7 too closely. The more native looking an app’s UI, the more users will expect it to behave exactly like one (and get frustrated when it doesn’t always). A phenomenal amount of effort is required to make an app look and feel just like a native one when it’s not actually using native controls. Even if this can be achieved, the platform will change and the app won’t, making it stand out like a sore thumb until it can be updated (again at significant effort). This is an issue for all cross-platform environments that have their own rendering engine rather than wrapping native controls.

What the technology wants

Marc Andreessen famously said that the eventual application model on mobile will be the web application model, because the technology wants it to work that way. Having every app stored on a remote server and the latest version always updated to the device when it becomes available is a superior model to downloading and periodically updating local apps. This technological advantage applies almost equally to hybrid apps, assuming the native wrapper rarely needs changing. Native apps that automatically update is a step in the right direction but doesn’t aid lean development practices like split testing and continuous deployment. The latter are so valuable in figuring out what to build quickly that there are plenty of entrepreneurs and businesses out there who would build mobile apps with the web model if they were good enough for their customers.

The next wave?

Consumer apps that don’t have highly desirable unique content or features are going to have to compete on user experience for the foreseeable future. For most that will mean native apps. However, building native apps is significantly more expensive than building cross-platform web apps. Not all of the people who pay for apps are going to prioritise user experience. The next generation of software for large enterprises right down to small businesses is going to need a much better user experience than the last but the current state of web technology is probably good enough.

Revenues from consumer mobile software may look quite attractive but the bulk is in Free-to-Play games and is highly concentrated amongst a handful of publishers. The majority of the growth in that market is in Asia. A more interesting opportunity for many developers may be the only slightly smaller but faster growing Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) market for businesses. As mobile devices become increasingly essential in our work lives as well as our personal lives, maybe we’ll see more of that total usage time in business and productivity apps.


So, is HTML5 about to make a comeback? In a way. If the first wave of mobile computing adoption was primarily about consumers, the next wave will see many more businesses getting serious about using mobile devices to enhance productivity and collaboration. I suspect the use of HTML5 in business apps to be much more successful than in the consumer space. Possibly we’ll see a return to the browser but for now the hybrid app looks more likely. General purpose business apps like time and resource tracking or project management will have large enough user bases to justify native client apps, although of course they’ll need web access too. The more specialised the app, the more likely it is to be a hybrid app than a fully native one.


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.


4 Reasons Not to Build Enterprise Apps

In an earlier post we showed how enterprise app developers make 4 times the revenue of those developing consumer apps on average. Targeting enterprises with apps can be very different from building consumer apps and not all developers prioritise revenue, so it’s not for everyone.


Do you want the indie developer lifestyle, or to build a company? What sort of contact do you want to have with your customers? Do you like consulting work or do you prefer to build your own products full time? Do you have a strong development platform preference? Depending on your answers to these questions you might find one of the 4 reasons below keeps you focused on consumer apps for the foreseeable future.

1. You like to work alone

The creation of the app stores enabled vast numbers of individual developers to create and monetise their own apps. Amongst the revenue earning developers targeting consumers, almost 43 percent are in one person companies and practically all of those don’t involve anyone else in development. Of the developers building apps for enterprises, only 13.3 percent are in one person companies and those are almost exclusively doing contract work. The one person enterprise development companies earn 24% more revenue than the equivalents building consumer apps but it’s definitely not the independent developer lifestyle they’re living. In general the enterprise developers earn more than those developing for consumers at every team and company size, with the difference increasing with team size up to the 500 employee mark. Above that revenues from app development per person drop significantly, although on both sides a lot of large companies developing primarily for reasons other than earning revenue are included here.

2. Direct sales repels you

As you can see from the charts above, enterprise app developers tend to work in larger companies than those targeting consumers. There’s also a bigger company size to team size ratio. The difference here is likely to be sales, marketing and support teams. In general, larger customers need more direct contact. In the consumer apps space it’s possible, although unlikely to be successful, to launch an app and sell it without ever having contact with anyone that uses it. However, although the costs of direct sales staff may seem high, consumer apps with large revenues and user bases typically pay to acquire a decent fraction of users (e.g. via in-app ads, Facebook app install ads, cross-promotion networks). We don’t have any data to compare the cost of sales for these developers but I wouldn’t bet that the average cost of sales as a fraction of revenue for the successful consumer app developers was significantly lower.

Whilst subscription revenue is by far the best earner for consumer app developers, it is one of the worst revenue models for enterprise developers. In the enterprise market per user/device licensing and other sales outside of app stores is a key revenue component for most successful businesses. This aspect of a business can often be very unattractive to developers.

3. You want complete creative control

On average [tweetable]enterprise app developers earn a much greater fraction of their revenue from contract work[/tweetable] (consulting). The most successful enterprise app businesses earn 25-75% of their revenue in this way (we only have 25% bands). It’s likely that there’s a lot of custom integration work involved in selling to larger enterprises. Even those selling to SMEs often offer customizations.

Developers who consider their apps an art-form and build them primarily to earn a living doing something creative they love will probably want to stay away from areas where a lot of contract work is involved. Those same developers are also not very likely to be inspired to help automate business processes or other similarly mundane but useful enterprise app functions.

4. You love Android development

There are some very major differences in the revenue models and revenues of enterprise app developers depending on their primary platform. The really big revenues are currently being earned by HTML5 developers (> $100k per developer per month). Next highest revenues are for iOS developers (a little over $50k per developer per month) but it seems that [tweetable]a lot of iOS app enterprise development is currently outsourced[/tweetable], since more than 70% of these earn >75% of their revenue from contract work and 40% earn 100% of their revenue in that way.

Compared to these two, the Android developers are the poor cousins. Despite having a much wider range of revenue models, their average revenue per developer is much lower (about $14k per month). Enterprise development still pays very slightly better on Android than building consumer apps but given the other trade-offs discussed above, it might seem like a relatively poor deal.

Running out of excuses?

When we published the last article, showing that enterprise developers make 4 times as much revenue as those targeting consumers, a lot of responses suggested that this difference was all in the large enterprise sales market and required large direct sales teams. While there is definitely some advantage to scale, this is certainly not the case. Not all enterprises are large and there’s a very big market of SMEs looking for mobile software to make their businesses more efficient or convenient. Although the most profitable enterprise app development companies are in the 51-500 employee range and solo developers are only marginally better off targeting enterprises, a 2-5 person company makes more than 4 times as much revenue on average by choosing to build enterprise apps. The 2-5 person enterprise app business is much more likely to be building HTML5 hybrid wrapper apps rather than the native iOS or Android apps of a similar sized consumer focussed business. They are also likely to be spending more of their time (although far from all of it) doing contract work. If neither of those things bothers you then it might still be worth considering the enterprise market for your next app.


HTML5 performance is fine, what we are missing is tools

HTML5 is perceived as a lower quality platform, mainly because of performance. This comes both as a result of survey data, as well as developer interviews. Yet, industry experts claim the problem is lack of tools. So what is the HTML5 really missing, performance or tools?


In April 2013 VisionMobile asked mobile app developers what stops them from using HTML5. 46% answered “Performance issues”, followed by 37% who said “Lack of APIs” (sample size: 1,518 developers).


We spoke to developers about their views on HTML5 performance. Apostolos Papadopoulos, author of 4sqwifi, a highly acclaimed public WiFi password app, noted “Quality and user experience is top priority for us. Therefore, we prefer going with a Native API”. It’s a common practice for developers to go native for better performance and user experience. But user experience, meaning following the behavioural conventions of the native platform, is a different story and HTML5 can’t help much. Developers can try to imitate but for a truly native UX they have to use Native SDKs; unless we are talking of Firefox OS or the long-awaited Tizen.

Ciprian Borodesku, CEO of Web Crumbz, added “From a business standpoint, there’s a lot of education needed for the acceptance of HTML5. There’s a gap between what we developers can provide and what the clients think we can provide”. The perception of HTML5 being a less capable platform is also common amongst people who commission apps.

Experts point to a tools gap

As part of our How can HTML5 compete with Native? report, VisionMobile conducted 32 interviews with industry experts, from Miško Hevery (author of Angular.js) to Max Firtman (author of “Programming the Mobile Web & jQuery Mobile” published by O’reilly) and Peter-Paul Koch (author of Quirksmode).

It came as a surprise when Robert Shilston, director of FT labs, champion of HTML5 apps, noted that “the biggest issue for HTML5 is the maturity of tools”. He emphasized not performance, but tools, as the key HTML5 gap.

Ran Ben Aharon, head of front-end development of, explained it in more colour: “Hearing Mark Zuckerberg denounce HTML5 made me angry at first, but then I looked at some data and realized that the main reason was not performance or APIs but the lack of memory management and debugging tools”.

Even though developers identify performance as the #1 problem of HTML5, a number of experts claim the actual challenge is tools. There’s no contradiction here, performance and tools are related. How can you improve an app, if you can’t measure it? How can you fix a bug, if you can’t replicate it?

HTML5 is like a car without a dashboard

[tweetable]Tools are to HTML5 what a dashboard is to a car[/tweetable]. You can’t run at high speed without knowing how fast the engine runs or you might end up totalling the engine. Likewise, you can’t produce fast HTML5 apps if you don’t have quality debugging and profiling tools.

With HTML5, coding and debugging are two separate processes. There is no self-contained IDE here. Developers code on the editor (e.g. vim or sublime) and debug on the browser, i.e. using Chrome developer tools. But debugging tools are difficult to master and they require a thorough knowledge of the underlying technology, e.g. what is a reflow, how does the garbage collector work, how is a memory leak created.

Louis Stowasser, author of CraftyJS noted “it would be great to have something like YSlow for game developers”. Why pick YSlow and not Chrome developer tools? Well, because the former offers insights on what to fix rather than data requiring interpretation.

Moreover, each browser has its own set of debugging tools. As a result, [tweetable]developers need to become familiar with at least 4 different environments to match the most popular browsers[/tweetable] of the market. And though it’s generally true that these tools look alike, it’s the little bits and pieces that make the difference.

Patrick H. Lauke, former product manager at Opera Software, highlighted the fragmentation of the browser debugging tools by commenting on a W3C public discussion board about our research: “Opera Dragonfly was the first to offer remote debugging and proposed a unified protocol for debugging. Sadly, other browsers showed very little interest and instead went their own separate ways to build something similar but different”. This also touches on the browser politics issue, due to be the subject of another blog post.

Better tools are needed

HTML5, as far as performance is concerned, is adequate for most use cases. And tools like and Goo Engine provide a testament. The question is no longer *whether* HTML5 can produce quality apps, but *how* easy it is to create quality web apps. What the HTML5 platform desperately needs is easy-to-use debugging and profiling tools.

With the right tools we could see external debugging tools hooking to multiple browsers and even apps able to profile themselves via standard debug APIs.

Web development attracts millions of developers who are new to software engineering because of the learning curve; it’s very easy to get started. The complexity gap between building basic sites and single page web apps (SPAs) is too big of a leap for many to jump over. Improved tool usability is one of the best ways to bridge that gap while also increasing productivity for those already building complex web apps.

What other improvements do you think are needed in HTML5? Download our research and participate in the discussion.