The report provides an unprecedented range of insights across all the touch-points of mobile app development, from selecting a platform and designing an app to receiving the profits.
The full report covers all the hottest issues of mobile development:
- Why do developers choose a mobile platform?
- Platform features: which aspects of their platform do developers perceive as being most important?
- Planning techniques: what are the most popular methods developers use to plan their applications in terms of features and target segment?
- App stores: which app stores are used, based on the developers’ platform of choice?
- How much cross-pollination is taking place across Android and iOS developers today?
- Developer challenges: what are the top-4 challenges developers face when taking their applications to market?
- Revenue models: what are the most popular revenue models and in which cases are ad-funded models used?
- Network operators: what do developers think is the role of network operators? Supermarkets, service enablers, or bit-pipes?
- User Interfaces: which platforms offer a good UI design environment and which not?
- Open source: where do developers use open source and what do they see as the key challenges
Needless to say, the report is skewed heavily to the “Western” market…not much intel from Africa captured.
Key take outs
• Commercial Pragmatism: In the last two years, mobile software and applications have moved from the sphere of cryptic engineering lingo to part of the essential marketing playbook for mobile industry vendors. At the same time, software developers have grown to be much more knowledgeable, pragmatic and savvy about the economic implications of mobile development.
• Market penetration is hands down the most important reason for selecting a platform, chosen by over 75 percent of respondents across each and every platform. Developers care more about addressable market and monetization potential than any single technical aspect of a platform.
• Platform concurrency: Most developers work on multiple platforms – on average, 2.8 platforms per developer, based on our sample of 400 respondents. Moreover, among iPhone and Android developers, one in five releases apps in both the Apple App Store and Android Market.
• Mindshare migration: In the last two years, a mindshare migration has taken place, with mobile developers moving away from “incumbent” platforms, namely Symbian, Java ME and Windows Phone. The large minority (20-25 percent) of Symbian respondents who sell their apps via iPhone and Android app stores reveals the brain-drain that is taking place towards these newer platforms. The vast majority of Java ME respondents have lost faith in the write-once-run anywhere vision. Moreover, anecdotal developer testimonials suggest that half of Windows Phone MVP developers (valued for their commitment to the platform) carry an iPhone, and would think twice before re-investing in Windows Phone.
• Android as mindshare leader: Android stands out as the platform most popular with mobile developers. Our survey results suggest nearly 60 percent of all mobile developers recently developed on Android, assuming an equal number of respondents with experience across each of eight major platforms (see research methodology in Appendix 1). iOS (iPhone) is second in terms of developer mindshare, outranking Symbian and Java ME, which were in pole position in 2008.
• Mindshare vs addressable market disconnect: Platform characteristics could not be more diverse across installed base and number of apps, revealing a disconnect between developer mindshare and addressable market for each platform. For example, the Symbian operating system is deployed in around 390 million handsets (Q2 2010), and claims over 6,000 apps, while Apple’s iPhone has seen 30x more applications while being deployed at just 60 million units over the same period.
• Developer bias: Most developers have a head-strong affinity towards the platform(s) they have invested time in, which distorts the perception of platform characteristics; across all eight major mobile platforms we surveyed, respondents felt that the best aspect of their platform was the large market penetration, even if the actual market penetration was relatively small.
• Market channels that were once mainstream, pre-2008, today take only a small chunk of the go-to-market pie for mobile apps. Operator portals and ondevice preloading through OEM or operator deals is the primary channel to market for fewer than five percent of mobile developers surveyed. Our findings show that developers resort to either ‘native’ app stores, or to direct download via their own websites – in addition to the traditional model of bespoke app development.
• Planning techniques are ubiquitous for application developers: Over 90 percent of respondents use some form of planning technique, such as beta testing or peer reviewing, for deciding on the target user segment or application features. However, given the hundreds of thousands of mobile apps, we believe that efficient (crowd-sourced) app testing is considerably under-served.
• App stores have reduced the average time-to-shelf by two thirds: from 68 days across traditional channels, to 22 days via an app store, according to our research. Moreover, app stores have reduced the average time-to-payment by more than half; from 82 days across traditional channels, to 36 days via an app store. On average, it takes 55 days to get paid via an operator channel, or a whooping 168 days when on-device pre-loading via a handset manufacturer.
• Short-head app stores: Despite the hype, there is little use or availability of app stores outside the Apple and Android platforms. Only five percent of Java and just over 10 percent of Windows Phone respondents reported using an app store as a primary distribution channel.
• Discovery bottleneck: The key challenge reported by mobile developers is the lack of effective marketing channels to increase application exposure and discovery. Moreover, half of respondents are willing to pay for premium app store placement. Despite their commercial savvy, developers have not taken application marketing into their own hands.
• Certification: The most important challenge in app certification is its cost; more than 30 percent of respondents who certify their apps report the high cost of the certification process as the number one challenge. The economics – often 100s of dollars per certification – do not work for low-cost apps, but only for mega productions.
• Dubious long tail economics: App stores are young and surrounded by a hype wave that distorts the reality of average per-capita monetisation. Only five percent of respondents reported very good revenues, above their expectations. Moreover, nearly 60 percent of iPhone respondents had not reached their revenue targets.
• Popular revenue models: Ad-funded models are only secondary revenue sources for developers employing app store and portal-based channels. Despite the hype, our research found ad-funded models lagging much behind tried and tested pay-per-download models. Subscription models, meanwhile, mainly apply where the application is distributed via an operator or content aggregator portal;they have made limited inroads into app stores.
• Role of operators: Mobile developers view network operators as bit-pipes.Nearly 80 percent of respondents think that the role of network operators should be to deliver data access anywhere/anytime, while only 53 percent considered their role to be delivering voice calls.
• Operator support: The majority of developers had not interacted directly with operators, but were very opinionated towards the lack of support. Almost 70 percent of respondents thought there was little or no developer support from network operators. Moreover, industry standards, consortia and joint initiatives (including OMTP and WAC) appear to have captured very little developer mindshare.
• Learning curve and efficiency: The learning curve varies greatly across mobile platforms. On average, the Symbian platform takes 15 months or more to learn, while for Android the average reported time is less than six months. Moreover, Symbian is much more difficult and time consuming to program than iOS (iPhone), Android or Java ME; our benchmarks show that for developing nine different typical applications, a Symbian developer needs to write almost three times more code than an Android developer, and twice as much code as an iPhone developer.
• Development environment: From a technical perspective, top pain points for mobile emulators and debuggers are slow speed and poor target device mirroring. Top pain points for development environments (IDEs) are the absence of an app porting framework, and poor emulator integration.
• Debugging: In terms of debugging, our benchmarking shows that Android has the fastest debugging process, compared with iPhone, Symbian and Java ME. Debugging in Symbian takes up more than twice the time it takes on Android.
• UI tools: Ability to build compelling UIs is still far from the reach of most mobile developers. Around 50 out of 100 Symbian, BlackBerry and Windows Phone per platform respondents are annoyed with the difficulty in creating great UIs.
• Support: Our research indicates that the majority of developers (more than 80 percent of respondents) rely on community or unofficial forums for support during software development, while websites are used for support by only 40 percent of respondents.
• Hidden device APIs: Access to unpublished or ‘hidden’ device APIs is a control point for platform vendors, but it is also what developers seem to be willing to pay for – in fact, more so than any other type of technical support. We believe that platform vendors could benefit from tiered SDK programs, where privileged SDKs are available to developers on a subscription plan.
• Network APIs: Operator network API programs have so far failed to appeal to developers. Only five percent of respondents thought that the role of network operators should be to expose network APIs. Yet more than half would pay for billing APIs, followed by messaging and location APIs.
• Open source: On average, 86 percent of respondents who use open source at work use it within development tools such as Eclipse. Android and iPhone developers are three times more likely to lead open source communities, compared to Symbian, revealing the contrasting pedigree of the developer communities. The single key drawback to open source reported by 60 percent of respondents was the confusion created by open source licenses; we believe education on open source realities can be used as a competitive advantage for developer programs launched by operators and OEMs.