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 Tools

The Rise of Mobile C#

Microsoft have been struggling to get traction with their mobile computing efforts, with Windows Phone stuck at around 3% share of the smartphone market. Windows 8 is doing a little better in the tablet market but is still a distant third to iOS and Android. Despite losing in the platform wars, Microsoft’s developer ecosystem is still strong and they’re not showing much sign of wanting to give up their tools. The latest Developer Economics survey showed that 38% of mobile developers were using C# for some of their work and 16% use it as their main language. Those developers are not all focused on Microsoft platforms by a long way. They’re not all building games with Unity either. So what are they doing?


Not just Windows Phone, particularly not for pros

Whilst 30% of all developers in the survey were targeting Windows Phone, that doesn’t quite account for the majority of those whose main language is C#. Also, more than half of the developers targeting Windows Phone are Hobbyists and Explorers[bctt tweet=”more than half of the developers targeting Windows Phone are Hobbyists and Explorers” username=”DevEconomics”] – i.e. those not working on mobile apps full time. If we focus on full time professional mobile developers, as we will for the rest of this article, then just 50% of those that use C# as their main language are primarily targeting Microsoft platforms. Apple’s iOS (with 23% of developers) and Google’s Android (14%) are in fact more popular targets than Windows 8 (10%). So, how do developers use C# on other platforms? With cross-platform tools, particularly Unity and Xamarin.

More enterprise apps than games

Unity is by far the most popular engine for mobile games, in fact in the Q3 2014 Developer Economics survey a massive 47% of game developers were using it for some of their projects. C# is the most important language in the Unity developer ecosystem, although there are two other languages supported (UnityScript – a JavaScript variant with type annotations – and Boo – a statically typed language with Python-like syntax). However, a lot of developers are using Unity to build games in their spare time. When we look at the full time pros we find that games are only the 4th most popular category of app. The top 3 categories are Business & Productivity tools, Enterprise-specific apps and Utilities, all staples of the enterprise-focused app developer. Developers are either building these apps for Microsoft platforms, using Xamarin to reach iOS and Android with them, or both. Indeed it’s the combination of a familiar language (and code portability) and tooling for many enterprise app developers with the cross-platform reach they can get with Xamarin that’s making C# such a popular choice in this area.

A flexible cross-platform approach

A lot of popular cross-platform tools for mobile development only support iOS and Android. As such, for those also wanting support for Windows Phone and possibly desktop Windows and Mac too, Xamarin is one of very few serious options. That said, it’s not just a default choice. Using Xamarin.Forms, developers can get the write-once-run-anywhere efficiency that drives many decisions to use a cross-platform approach. The downside to this approach is that it can give a lowest common denominator of functionality; not allowing developers to really optimise for the unique features of each platform. However, Xamarin also directly wraps the native platform APIs, allowing developers to call anything in the native SDKs. They can even automatically create bindings for popular third party libraries on each platform. The other key reason developers often go with a native rather than cross-platform approach is performance. However, a recent independent performance test (by an early Google engineer) showed Xamarin’s compiler produces raw performance that’s comparable to native on iOS and Android. Raw performance isn’t the only thing that counts of course – a garbage collection pause causing a stutter in your animation is jarring, however fast the the code is executing otherwise. Enterprises customers will usually put up with mild inconveniences of that nature to get the cost savings and maintenance benefits of a single code base across platforms though.

Better revenues

Possibly the best measure of the success of C# on mobile devices is the revenues of the developers using it. Whether you believe the same level of smoothness in the user experience can be achieved or not, it only matters if it costs users and revenue. Here there is no room for debate. The revenues of full time professional developers whose main language is C# are comparable to, or better than, those of other developers targeting the same primary platform with the native language. For example, the revenue distribution for C# developers on iOS is extremely similar to that for Objective-C developers and the average revenues are higher. This is both because there are more C# developers earning more than $10K (46% vs 36%) per month and while there are slightly fewer earning more than $100K per month (16% vs 17%), a significantly greater fraction of those using C# earn more than $500K per month (14% vs 6%).

This is not to suggest that C# is somehow a better language for targeting iOS than Objective-C. This is correlation and not causation. The cause of the better revenues is that the C# developers are much more likely to be targeting enterprises than the Objective-C developers and that’s where the higher revenues are most likely to be found. There’s an enormous pool of developers trained in C# and related Microsoft technologies. A lot of them are working on desktop enterprise apps or the server side. As it becomes increasingly clear that C# is a viable language for successfully delivering cross-platform mobile solutions, C#’s rise on mobile looks set to continue for several years yet.

The Rise of the Mobile C#


Business Community

Can the app stores sustain 5.5 million developers?

In our latest report, App Economy Forecasts 2015 – 2017, we estimate the number of mobile ecosystem in 2014 at 5.5 million developers. Demand for mobile development skills has never been higher and yet revenue from app store sales cannot possibly pay their salaries. Luckily they don’t have to as developers aren’t all building apps full time and there are several other revenue sources in the app economy, some of them comparable with or even significantly larger than the app stores.

Βlueprint of the app economy preview 4

Estimating the developer population

Counting mobile developers is hard. A lot of software developers look into mobile platforms and a lot of people are curious enough about how they’d make an app for their phones that they’ll try to find out. We can’t meaningfully count all of these as mobile developers. However, we also know from our Developer Economics surveys that a huge percentage of developers creating the apps that fill the app stores are not full-time professionals. Popular programming Q&A site StackOverflow has around 35 million unique visitors and it is only an English speaking community. That probably includes a lot of students trying to get help with their coursework. Meanwhile bottom up estimates for the global professional developer population based on job classification data from multiple sources are just under 20 million. This is highly error-prone due to the way developers are classified along with other IT professionals in many places around the world. How many of those are really building mobile apps anyway? Apple has over 9 million developers registered on their developer portal. Some of those are for Mac and Safari but the majority are iOS developers. Then again, the number of developer accounts with any apps published on the App Store for iOS is only around 350,000. Google Play has fewer active publishers than iOS. The truth must lie somewhere between these extremes.

For the purposes of our estimate we decided to count developers who are actively building, or planning to build in the very near future, publishable apps for a mobile platform. Students building toy apps to learn and hobbyists who only build things for themselves aren’t taken into account. Those people could join the ranks of mobile developers in the near future but they aren’t doing anything to satisfy mobile app demand yet. 5.5 million is the number of developers required to maintain all of the published apps that have been updated in the last 12 months, plus build all of the new ones released in the same period. In our report we also forecast the number of new and updated apps going forward and the number of developers required to sustain that app growth through 2017.

Keeping the pizza and coffee flowing

Developers are in high demand and as employees in the US they will typically earn upwards of $100k per year with relatively little experience. Proven talent in Silicon Valley can easily earn 50-100% more. Salaries in Western Europe are not quite as eye-catching but not that far behind either. In countries where the cost of living is much lower, developer salaries are obviously more modest but actually often a greater multiple of the national average wage.

Why would anyone with such earning potential build and sell apps that are likely to produce a poor return on their time. There are several answers:

  • Some apps make fantastic returns and some developers believe, or at least hope, they could emulate those and use their skills to make a small fortune
  • Other developers are trying to build small but sustainable businesses on the app stores, targeting niches and working as artists and entrepreneurs
  • Some developers build their own apps as proof of their abilities in order to sell their skills for a higher rate on contract development work
  • Many developers just love to code and already earn a full time salary in their day job, they build apps as side projects or for a hobby, either for fun, a little extra income or to sharpen their skills for their next career move
  • Some developers are purely learning and having fun, usually either at the beginning of their careers and in some cases after they’ve retired.

Note that only the first two of these are depending on the apps for income. Of course not all developers are trying to make a return from apps via paid downloads or in-app purchases. Advertising is also a big source of revenue in the app economy, although most of it goes to a few giant corporations. The typical developer monetising through ads does much worse than those using in-app purchases, so that’s not the answer. However, there are other models where developers have better odds of making money. Subscriptions are the fastest growing revenue opportunity according to our forecasts, although for pure Software as a Service rather than content subscriptions that will mostly be selling to enterprises. The biggest revenue opportunity of all in app economy over the next few years is definitely not in pure software businesses. Indeed, it’s the rather old-fashioned business of selling real physical things! Find out just how big it is by purchasing our latest report.

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!