The worldwide contingent of software developers is growing at exponential rates every year. By the end of 2015, more than 21 million individuals were into making software applications on a full-time basis. Interestingly, 1 out of every 2 software makers is a mobile app developer. We are now a couple of months into 2016, and this would be just the right time to check out some current key trends, facts and stats about mobile app development and developers:
- Most developers are ‘small’ – Taken together, independent app developers and small-sized mobile app companies make up around 82% of the total number of app makers in the world. These ‘small’ companies have a maximum of 5 employees each. Large, multinational app agencies are coming up…but small developers and companies still rule the roost.
- Focus is gradually shifting on cross-platform app development – From Cocos2D to PhoneGap, and from Sencha to Unity 3D – there is a host of cross-platform tools available for app developers at present. The regular launch of advanced, multi-featured smartphones and tablets (running on iOS or Android or Windows) has also played its part in driving up the interest in cross-platform mobile app development. Cloud computing has surged, and most software developers have realized that it is no longer profitable enough to create apps for a single platform only. App clients look for companies that follow agile development standards, have quick turnaround times, maintain high quality standards, and cater to all the popular mobile platforms.
- More artificial intelligence in mobile apps – Developers are constantly striving to make their apps more interactive – and for that, artificial intelligence (or AI) is an obvious resource. The rise in popularity of personal assistant/self-help applications have fueled the need for implementing AI in mobile apps further. Just like what the Natural Language Understanding (NLU) property of Siri and Google Now allows, several other apps have come up, that can ‘understand’ instructions directly from the user and ‘react’ accordingly. Apps are becoming less of software and more of companions!
- Native apps on the wane? – There are no clear signs of this yet – but in 2016, developers are likely to move more towards making hybrid apps (in other words, focus on mobile web app development). The reason for this is two-fold: firstly, thanks to the large number of hybrid app development tools available, even non-programmers can try their hands at making these applications. Secondly, and far more importantly, it is easier to target more mobile devices with hybrid apps, while maintaining the cost-effectiveness of app development processes. As the volume of hybrid apps will grow, they will eat into the share of native apps.
- Make games. More games – That’s right, mobile game development is likely to gain further momentum this year. Surveys have revealed that around 41% of all app developers across the world wish to make gaming software. The interest in making entertainment apps and utility apps (33% and 28%) is pretty much significant too. Interestingly, less than 1 out of every 5 developers are interested in making social networking apps, while mobile apps for kids (with a lowly 13% interest share) are at an even lower rung. Enterprise apps, although financially profitable for developers, are yet to really catch on. It is expected that this category of mobile applications will grow rapidly between 2017 and 2020.
- It’s still not easy to make big profits – And many new mobile app developers will find this out the hard way this year. On average, indie app developers earn only about $1.5K per month (nearly 75% of them have a sub-$1000 monthly income). Medium-scale app studios (i.e. the ones with 5-49 employees) fare only slightly better – with an average monthly earning of less than $8K. It is the large mobile app companies (50+ employees) that boast of average monthly earning of nearly $45K and are generally likely to do well. Independent developers can still come out with a breakthrough app now and then, but bigger companies will perform consistently on a higher level in 2016.
- Spotlight on app security – It’s not a matter of coincidence that both Apple and Google have placed prime focus on security on their latest mobile platform versions (iOS 9 and Android 6.0 Marshmallow) respectively. In 2015, nearly 77% apps failed to comply with the basic security guidelines. Developers have no other option than being more careful about personal user-information (bank account details, SSN, mobile payments, etc.) that are used via, and stored in, custom third-party applications. Mobile digital payment tools like Apple Pay and Android Pay (an improved rehash of Google Wallet) are becoming increasingly popular, and high-end security is an absolute must in apps that are supposed to work with them.
- Earning per app – We have already looked at the likely earnings of app developers from the company/agency perspective. Let us now turn our attentions on how much they are likely to earn in 2016, on every app they create. iOS, expectedly, ranks higher than Android in this regard – with the ‘per-app, per-month’ earning figure of iPhone app developers being almost $8.5K (comfortably ahead of the $4.9K figure for Android developers). But here comes the big surprise: the Windows platform gives developers the highest per-app earning opportunities. In 2015, developers on average earned $11.5K per app on a monthly basis from Windows apps. The platform is not at all fragmented, and that is the single biggest reason for the high profitability on it.
- More attention on wearable technology – Apple Watch 2 is coming this Spring, there are many smart Android wearables – but making apps for these gadgets is still at a fairly nascent stage. By the end of last year, a measly 7% of all app makers had started making apps for wearables. In 2016, this figure is likely to jump to around 35%. Most iOS app developers would start making apps for Apple Watch. Competition will increase, and it will be interesting to see how good the next set of apps for watchOS and Android wearables turn out to be.
- That thing called IoT – IoT, or Internet of Things, is easily one of the hottest buzzwords in the domain of mobile app development at present. According to industry forecasts, the CAGR of the IoT market would be close to 32% by the end of 2019. In addition to smart devices, general home appliances, cars, wearable devices and other stuff will be used to connect more than 50 billion items (and almost 6 million people) by that time. There is considerable scope for the growth of IoT, and it is likely to take off in a big way from this year itself.
- Which platform are the developers most interested in making apps for? – Android wins this by a large margin. Around 86% of of the global app developer community are interested in making apps for the Android platform (first preference), while around 58% wish to develop for iOS first. In North America, the two platforms are almost equally popular among developers, with Android being a long way ahead in both Europe and Asia. In terms of developer mindshare, iOS has a lot of ground to make up.
- Rise and rise of Beacon technology – In 2016 and beyond, wifi will cease to be only a channel for connecting to and browsing the internet. Apple has already tasted some success with iBeacon (in iOS), and such location-based services will be increasingly used by developers, to make their apps more powerful. These services will be particularly beneficial for businesses (retail and advertising, primarily) for connecting with their customers – by integrating beacon technology in their applications (which would work with device wi-fi).
- Biggest challenges for developers – What is the one stage of mobile app development that is likely to cause the least worry for developers? The answer is…app testing – with only 7% developers stating it as a serious challenge. The actual coding stage is not the most challenging either (18% developers mention this). The trickiest part is actually marketing a new app (i.e., generating awareness among target-users about the existence of the application). 44% developers mention app marketing as the most challenging task.
For making money from mobile apps, in-app ads are by far the most popular strategy. The onus is on Android and iPhone app developers to make sure that ads do not, in any way, become intrusive for users. 1 out of 3 developers prefer to include in-app purchase options in their apps. Monitoring app analytics and creating big data applications would gain in momentum this year as well. 2016 will be yet another mighty interesting year for mobile app developers, as the above trends suggest. The industry will continue to evolve this year, and a smart approach would certainly help developers achieve and maintain success.