Getting users to pay for things remains the biggest challenge for app developers

More than half of app developers are living in “app poverty”: making less than $500 a month from their apps.

We’ve produced an infographic which looks at insights such as this from The Evolving State of Mobile Commerce, a report published by VisionMobile in collaboration with Braintree.

Here are some more of the insights about app developers that are featured in the infographic:

  • Half of M-commerce developers are using the App store
  • Operators are still bankers in the Middle East and Africa
  • Bitcoin is bigger in the Americas

The M-Commerce Ecosystem

This is just a small sample of the insights contained in the report, if you’d like to know more, then take a look at The Evolving State of Mobile Commerce report.

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.

Platforms Tools

Top 5 Tools for Augmented Reality in Mobile Apps

Augmented Reality (AR) is about overlaying pieces of a virtual world over the real world (in contrast to Virtual Reality (VR) that is about replacing the real world with a virtual one). On mobile devices, this simply means enhancing what you can see through the device’s camera with multimedia content (e.g. you can point your camera at a movie poster and watch its trailer, or you can point it at a star in the sky and learn its name). So, basically [tweetable]AR comes down to the following three fundamental questions: where to display what and how[/tweetable].


But first: which are YOUR favourite tools? Take the Developer Economics Survey and you could win new, amazing gear.

The where might involve areas like 2-D image matching and tracking, 3-D object matching and tracking, face detection and tracking, SLAM tracking, and location tracking (using GPS, accelerometer, compass, gyroscope). Sometimes the where is nothing more than some predefined point locations, often referred to as Points of Interest (POIs).

On the other hand, the what and the how might leverage 3-D model rendering, animations and gesture detection. In general, the what can be any piece of digital information (e.g. text, image, video) that the user might also have the ability to interact with (e.g. rotate or move it).

Top 5 Tools for Augmented Reality

Let us now present five of the numerous AR tools that exist at the moment and that can be used to develop apps for smart-phones, tablets or even smart-glasses. The following table contains information about the license(s), under which each one of these tools is distributed, and the platforms that it supports.

Product Company License Supported Platforms
ARPA SDKs Arpa Solutions Commercial* Android, iOS (ARPA SDKs), Google Glass (ARPA GLASS SDK), Android, iOS, Windows PC (ARPA Unity Plugin)
ARLab SDKs ARLab Commercial Android, iOS
DroidAR Free and Commercial Android
Metaio SDK Metaio Free and Commercial Android, iOS, Windows PC, Google Glass, Epson Moverio BT-200, Vuzix M-100, Unity
Vuforia SDK Qualcomm Free and Commercial Android, iOS, Unity
Wikitude SDK Wikitude GmbH Commercial* Android, iOS, Google Glass, Epson Moverio, Vuzix M-100, Optinvent ORA1, PhoneGap, Titanium, Xamarin

* There is also a free trial available.


Image (multi-)detection and (multi-)tracking, 3-D object rendering in real time, as well as user interaction with 3-D objects (e.g. selection, rotation, scaling) are some of the features that ARPA SDK offers for building AR apps on iOS and Android. ARPA GPS SDK complements ARPA SDK with geolocation-based AR functionality: it allows you to define your own POIs that, when detected, the user can select them and get more information about them or even perform actions on them (e.g. the “take-me-there” action that displays a map with directions to the selected POI). ARPA GLASS SDK and ARPA Unity Plugin offer similar functionality with ARPA SDK for Google Glass and the Unity game engine, respectively. It is worth noting that Arpa Solutions, the company behind these SDKs, have over the years developed their own AR platform, some of the features of which (e.g. face recognition and virtual buttons) might at some point be transferred also to the SDKs.

Update Oct 7, 2015: ARPA website has gone offline – their domain name, i.e. seems to have expired.


With AR Browser SDK you can add and remove POIs independently from the scene in real time, interact with them (e.g. touch them or point the camera to them) and perform actions on them (e.g. send SMS or share on Facebook). Image Matching SDK allows you to create your own local matching pool with thousands of images (loaded both from local resources and remote URLs), and use it to match any image without any connection to the internet, while it also supports QR code and barcode recognition. Except for these two SDKs, ARLab will soon launch Object Tracking, Image Tracking and Virtual Button SDKs. All SDKs are available for both Android and iOS.


DroidAR is an open-source framework that adds location-based AR functionality to Android apps. Gesture (e.g. full turn) detection, support for static and animated 3-D objects (using the model loaders from the libGDX game development framework) that the user can interact with (e.g. click on them), and marker detection are part of the functionality that DroidAR offers and that is only shaded by the poor documentation that exists for the project. There is a section on the project README file on GitHub that gives an overview of a closed-source version of DroidAR, DroidAR 2, which seems to have some interesting enhancements compared to its open-source counterpart (e.g. SLAM tracking and a jMonkeyEngine plugin).

Metaio SDK

Metaio SDK supports among others 2-D image, 3-D object, face, SLAM and location tracking, barcode and QR code scanning, continuous visual search (both offline and online through Metaio CVS), and gesture detection. Metaio has also designed their own AR scripting language, AREL (Augmented Reality Experience Language) that allows you to develop your AR apps using common web technologies (HTML5, XML, Javascript) and deploy them everywhere. Metaio SDK can be used to develop AR apps for Android, iOS, Windows PC, Google Glass, Epson Moverio BT-200 and Vuzix M-100 or using Unity.


Multi-target detection, target tracking, virtual buttons, Smart TerrainTM, and Extended Tracking are some of the features of Vuforia SDK. Vuforia supports the detection of several kinds of targets (e.g. objects, images, English text). Especially for image recognition purposes Vuforia allows apps to use databases that are either local on the device or in the Cloud, The platform is available for Android, iOS and Unity. There is also a version of the SDK for smart glasses (namely Epson Moverio BT-200, Samsung GearVR, and ODG R-6 and R-7) that is currently moving to its beta phase and is open for early access applications from qualified developers.

Wikitude AR SDK

Wikitude AR SDK supports image recognition and tracking, 3-D model rendering and animations (supports only the Wikitude 3-D format), video overlays, location-based tracking and image, text, button, video and HTML augmentations. Wikitude AR SDK is available for Android, iOS, Google Glass, Epson Moverio, Vuzix M-100 and Optinvent ORA1, and as a plugin for PhoneGap, a module for Titanium and a component for Xamarin.

To sum up

There are apps that allow a museum exhibit to tell its own story, that help you decide which furniture looks better in your living room, that bring an elephant you just drew on a piece of paper into life, or that warn you about all the signs you ignored while you were driving. These are examples of already available apps that provide some sort of AR functionality. So, pick one of the AR tools we described above (or one we didn’t, e.g. AndAR, ARmedia SDK, BeyondAR, mixare) and use it to integrate AR in your own apps.

Read more about the differences between AR and VR!

What do you like or hate about these tools? Take the Developer Economics Survey and win new, amazing gear.

Platforms Tools

Mobile Platform Wars: Winners & Losers in 2012

[This post first appeared on the VisionMobile blog on 9 July 2012.] The game of ecosystems is in full bloom, with each player attempting to draw as many developers as possible around their platform. As we finally see some signs of consolidation, VisionMobile Senior Analyst Andreas Pappas, talks about mobile platform wars, the rules of engagement and identifies the winners and losers in this game of ecosystems in 2012.

Moreover, we’re proud to introduce VisionMobile Visualisations – live. These are interactive graphs with tons of data from the Developer Economics 2012 research!