Developer stories: Mobile Development Runs Deep

At VisionMobile, we believe in the people behind the numbers. While it’s important to understand numbers, trends and segments, it’s equally important to understand the people we’re trying to reach with our research. This developer profile is one in a series designed to help us get to know some of the people behind the statistics.


Developer Profile:
Levent Gurses

Company, job title and duties:
Movel: CEO, developer entrepreneur. Movel is an enterprise development company, and Levent says, “I code on a daily basis because other people are doing the less interesting stuff.”

Virginia, US

Development Focus:
Movel focuses on mobile, but that’s too easy of an answer. They work on both native and cross-platform apps (iOS, Android, Windows Mobile, Phonegap, and more.) Levent emphasizes that mobile development doesn’t mean just the front-end app. The back end, he points out, is the biggest part of a mobile project, particularly one with multiple front ends. The back end includes key capabilities such as RESTful, secure APIs and identity and transaction management.

Levent explains that when building enterprise apps, most of a mobile app’s back end applies to a Web app/client’s back end as well. As he builds enterprise solutions, he’s able to build a “21st century back end.” Everything that applies to a mobile app backend applies to a Web app as well, bringing Web apps up to speed for 2016.


Languages used:
While some developers have a specific language they prefer, Levent and Movel use a mix of languages and clients. AngularJS, however, is a favorite. He’s also fond of Google’s Polymer framework and feels it’ll be a standard in 6-12 months … if Google doesn’t shut it down.

While there’s something to be said for using established frameworks and languages, when a new, promising technology comes along, he takes a pragmatic approach. If a new technology provides sufficient promise, he discusses the potential risks and rewards with the client, along with the backup plan. If the client agrees, they’ll try those less established technologies on a new product.

Favorite devices:
As with some people, Levent is frustrated with the Apple ecosystem, and frustrated by Apple. And like many of us, he says, “I can’t live without my IPhone 6 Plus.” But he uses a variety of devices for testing and exploring. He contrasts iOS devices to Android devices like this: “If I want to use a small computer, I’ll use Android. If I want to use a phone, I’ll use my iPhone.”

He also has an Internet of Things (IoT) shop with about 20 Raspberry PIs running office projects like presentations, dashboards, and temperature sensors. The Raspberry PI is his favorite of this genre for “general, light computing power.” In fact, he says, these eliminate the need for desktops in many applications with the open source Raspbian OS. Arduinos, by comparison, are more limited, but useful for training.

They don’t need any Windows computers, he says, since their MacBooks and Macs run Parallels.

Favorite project built recently:
His favorite recent project stands out to him not because of the technology used but because of the solution. Built for an educational nonprofit, the solution streamlines the application process for college. US high school students use the app to more easily apply to multiple colleges.

Favorite tools:
“Nothing can touch the power of the Chrome developer tools,” even simulating slow connections, network traffic and simulated security issues.

But Movel doesn’t lock its developers into a particular toolset. “That’s what’s beautiful about development nowadays … it’s all open unless it’s Adobe (PDF).” Some prefer no IDE at all, others love heavier IDEs. “Use whatever makes you more efficient.”

They do, however, enforce backend standards like Ansible and Docker.

Best developer-related advice ever heard
“Premature optimization is the root of all evil,” commonly attributed to Donald Knuth. He explains, we need to understand the art of creating the minimum viable product that addresses the business problem.


Best developer-related advice ever given
“Get involved in local meetups and hackathons.” He continues, “Here’s what happened to a lot of developers with the Internet. Everything became impersonal, even resumes. But it takes away the joy. Get out to talk with like-minded people to discuss tools and techniques. You’ll learn stuff you wouldn’t come across in your usual stream, be that Twitter, GitHub or other social media. Everyone you follow is likely like-minded. This takes away the coincidences – local encounters, conferences, meetups, hackathons – all give you a chance to get out of your comfort zone.”

This advice applies to not just new but to experienced developers. He counsels to not get too comfortable: instead, build a trusted network of real people you meet and spend time with. “We grow based on our environment and who we know. When we increase the caliber of people we know then we can grow in leaps and bounds.”


The European App Economy 2014: Europe is losing ground to Asia

We have just published a research note with an update to last year’s an European App Economy report. The good news is that Europe’s app economy still accounts for 19% of global revenues and is growing strongly at a 12% annual rate. The bad news is that the rest of the world, particularly Asia, is growing much faster. The global app economy is growing at 27% annually and the share of revenues captured by developers in the EU28 is falling. We estimate that around 1 million European jobs have been created by the app economy so far. If policymakers want to see this job creation continue then there’s a lot more they could do to support developers attempting to create businesses.


A $16.5 billion market

In our App Economy Forecasts 2013-2016 report we estimated that apps and app related products and services would generate $86 billion in revenues globally in 2014. The 19% share of this generated by European developers will contribute $16.5 billion to EU28 GDP this year. This is many times more revenue than is generated directly in the app stores. However, the EU is home to the top 2 app store earners globally in Supercell (Finland) and King (UK) – masters of the Free-to-Play games market. At the same time, European policymakers are some of the most vocal in attempts to enhance consumer protection with respect to the Free-to-Play model. So far there is only strong encouragement to reform practices around cost transparency but this could (justifiably) lead to regulation if insufficient voluntary action is taken. Significant changes in this area would undoubtedly impact the revenues of Europe’s most high profile app market success stories.

1 million jobs

We estimate that the number of direct European app economy jobs is up 26% from 2013 to 667,000, this breaks down as 406,000 professional developers and 261,000 non-technical roles in app-related business. Using a conservative multiplier we also estimate another 333,000 jobs have been created indirectly by the app economy in the EU28 for a total of 1 million jobs. A large fraction of these jobs are in software services companies taking the low risk route to profitability building apps on a contract basis. Contract software development is the most popular revenue model in Europe, favoured by 31% of developers. This may be partially due to the relative lack of seed capital for startup ventures in the region along with a relatively high cost of living versus most global competitors, making bootstrapping products more difficult.


Slower growth

Although the European app economy is growing at less than half the global rate, some loss of share was unavoidable. Europe was very quick to reach high levels of smartphone penetration and most of the device sales growth is in developing markets. A significant fraction of demand for apps will always be filled by local developers with better market knowledge. As smartphone penetration increases in developing countries their local app economies are growing rapidly. European developers are well placed to export to English-speaking markets and South America but it’s not so easy for them to succeed in Asia. It’s likely that developers based in the EU will need specialist support or local partners to maximise app export opportunities in some of the fastest growing markets.

The enterprise opportunity

As smartphones reach saturation, businesses will play an increasing role in the growth of the app economy in Europe. In our Business and Productivity Apps report we forecast that this sector would experience rapid growth, reaching $58 billion globally by 2016. We have identified 5 areas where app developers and startups can add value in the business & enterprise app sector:

  • Vertical market specialisation
  • Productivity/BYO apps
  • Mobile SaaS
  • Bespoke enterprise apps
  • Mobile application and device management

While European developers are well placed to win bespoke enterprise app development business, they may struggle to compete with better funded rivals from other regions for the larger opportunities. Starting a technology business has never required less capital but scaling an enterprise software business is incredibly expensive to do quickly. The biggest mobile SaaS, application management and vertical market opportunities are likely to be venture capital fuelled land grabs. To ensure that Europe makes maximum gains from the future growth of the app economy, policymakers need to do all they can to keep app entrepreneurs from relocating to Silicon Valley in order to access the expertise and capital they need to compete.


Building a business not just an app? Start with the revenue model

The number of app developers using business models that don’t rely on app store payments is increasing. In some cases this is sophisticated app developers adapting to the market. In many cases it’s simply a greater number of existing businesses starting to use apps as a channel to reach potential customers. We can use the data from our Q1 Developer Economics survey to examine which strategies carry the most risk and which have the greatest chances of success. Could you use one of the more successful models for your next app?

business models - mobile platforms

We asked developers to tell us all of the revenue models they use and also whether their business was loss making, breaking even, making a slight profit, or generating comfortable profits. Revenue model popularity and a sample of profit & loss distributions are shown below.

Build apps for other people

[tweetable]Contracting is the most popular revenue model and also the one associated with the second lowest probability of making a loss[/tweetable] and third highest probability of comfortable profits. Of course, contract work also has strictly limited upside – it’s not really possible to build a scalable business around contract work without becoming a global giant consulting company. That said, the [tweetable]majority of developers would be better off if they spent most of their time on contract work rather than their own apps[/tweetable].

App store payments and advertisers

The next most popular revenue models, in-app advertising, paid downloads, in-app purchases and freemium are all relying on directly monetising an app. Together they are the four most risky models with the lowest chances of profit. [tweetable]Paid downloads are the least successful revenue model[/tweetable]. Although easy to implement there are very few cases where offering a straight paid download will create a financial success. Even on iOS, despite a still growing user base, the paid download market appears to be contracting fairly rapidly in the face of free app alternatives with in-app purchases. Despite the advantages of the in-app purchase model, it’s still quite far behind other models.

Selling services

Subscriptions are the next most popular and also relatively low risk and successful. However, implementing subscription based services is usually more complex than selling apps or virtual goods. Many subscription based businesses are simply using an app to sell subscription content. Another interesting possibility for developers in this area is to resell generic cloud services by adding value on top. As very basic (and already well served) examples, re-sell storage by adding document collaboration or photo management features on top.

Providing services that app developers can resell is one model for those selling developer services. Others include tools or services that help developers design, build, market or monetise their apps. This is one of the lower risk models with a good probability of profit. It follows the classic advice that when there’s a gold rush, the best thing to do is sell picks and shovels. There are still plenty of opportunities in this space (where are all the tools that help me prototype animations?) but also others with too much competition (some BaaS providers are already shutting down).

Selling stuff

[tweetable]Apps that make money through e-Commerce are the most successful in terms of making comfortable profits [/tweetable]and have by far the lowest risk of making a loss. Most developers using this model had existing e-Commerce businesses and have just added mobile apps as another sales channel. There are some startups with mobile first commerce apps though. More than 50% of developers using this model make comfortable profits related to their apps, so the cost of building apps is more than paid for by sales through them.

Affiliate and CPI programs allow developers to sell other people’s stuff. Using an affiliate program could be selling products related to your app through Amazon. Alternatively, a travel guide app might integrate a flight search SDK that provides a native search experience within their app – the developer gets paid whenever anyone books a flight. Affiliate programs were very popular on the web and their native counterparts are likely to be as well. CPI programs are for selling other developers apps, or at least getting users to install them. The top free-to-play games have extremely high ARPU and as they try to grow rapidly it makes sense for them to pay almost anything less than their ARPU for a new user (since new users boost chart ranking and thus organic installs). Other apps are a good place to advertise apps, so this is likely to be quite a lucrative option until either there’s an oversupply of quality advertising inventory or a crackdown on free-to-play games.

Royalties or licensing

We skipped per-device royalties or licensing in the middle of those last two. Overall this doesn’t have much lower risk than relying on the app stores or ads. However, this is inherently a higher risk strategy with bigger rewards for success. It usually involves building a product for large companies or even OEMs. The downside is that the number of direct customers in the target market is usually quite small. This is usually a model for those with great connections, a lot of funding, or both.

Build a business, not just an app

The app stores made it really easy for developers to sell software to a very large audience for the first time. With over a million apps each for iOS and Android, that is no longer the case. Discovery is hard and larger, more sophisticated organisations are dominating the top charts. If you have a great idea for an app, see if you can find a great revenue model to fit it. If not, try to come up with another idea. Outside of the VC-funded startups, developers that succeed will be the ones that think about where their revenue will come from before they’ve started building the app.

For more information of the success recipe of mobile apps, check out our App Economy Profits report.


Confessions of a BlackBerry developer

The BlackBerry developer initiative

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


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

The need for change

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

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


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

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

The decision

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

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

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

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


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

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

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


App monetisation tip: Go for niche markets, not user reach

Mobile apps have enabled some developers to reach unprecedented scale in an incredibly short time. The companies that do this best have hundreds of millions of users and are typically valued at billions of dollars. The winners in this battle for mass market attention and appeal are either backed with millions of dollars in venture capital or created by companies already worth billions. Can developers without quite so many resources behind them achieve a smaller scale of success by following the same formulas, or might targeting a smaller niche achieve better results?