What Mobile App Developers are Thinking

— October 11, 2012

In a joint survey of more than 5,500 developers, IDC and Appcelerator reveal  that developers predict they will be building mobile apps for form factors such as televisions, connected cars, game consoles, Google Glass  and foldable screens by 2015. Apple continues to reign as the platform of choice for enterprise development, while Android remains in decline, and interest in developing for RIM sinks to an all-time low.

Bob O'Donnell, VP of clients, displays, and mobile devices at IDC, says, "Mobile has the power to reshape entire industries quickly. Staying competitive isn't simply a matter of porting elements of an existing business model to mobile; rather, it requires re-envisioning traditional business models through a mobile lens."


  • 2015 predictions include development for new form factors
  • Developers are disappointed with nearly every aspect of HTML5
  • Apple continues to reign as the platform of choice
  • Android development declines for a fourth quarter
  • RIM declines to all-time low, providing an opportunity for others
  • Developers remain excited about Storage as a Service (SaaS) and Backend as a Service (BaaS)
  • There is optimism around the potential for Microsoft’s Windows 8 tablet and smartphone platform
  • There is a need for a cross-platform environment
2015: New Form Factors
In this quarter’s survey, developers were asked to predict the mobile app market as far out as 2015. This is a daunting task for such a fast-moving market (consider that four years ago, there was no iPad). However, mobile developers are on the cutting edge of transformation through mobility, so they provide a unique perspective.

By 2015, developers predict that it is “likely to very likely” that they will be building mobile apps for more than smartphones and tablets. Televisions (83.5%), connected cars (74%), game consoles (71.2%), Google Glass (67.1%) and foldable screens (69.1%) all ranked high on the list of future form factors.

Tablets/Smartphones Still Rule
However, despite the entry of a variety of additional form factors, developers still believe they will build the majority of their apps for smartphones and tablets in 2015. Small percentages of developers believe they will be developing exclusively for phones or tablets, but 63% believe they will still be developing apps for both. This further emphasizes developers’ need for a single development environment in which to create apps for as many form factors as possible.

Developers Not Satisfied with HTML5

When considering their satisfaction with a number of the features supported by HTML5, developers ranked it with nearly every feature of HTML5 as neutral to dissatisfied, including user experience (62% neutral to dissatisfied), performance (72.4%), monetization (83.4%), fragmentation (75.4%), distribution control (60.3%), timeliness of new updates (67.9%) and security (81.8%).

Developers reported the highest satisfaction (58%) with the cross-development capabilities of HTML5, and slightly fewer than 50% reported satisfaction with its immediate updates.

Apple Dominates; Shift for Android
Apple maintained its dominance at the top of developers’ lists for mobile app development this quarter, with fully 85% of developers very interested in building apps for iOS smartphones and 83% similarly focused on iPad apps. While this does represent a slight decline from the previous quarter’s survey, a single 3% deviation is relatively normal over a single quarter.

More disconcerting is Android’s return to decline in developer interest levels, with now fewer than 66% of developers very interested in developing for that tablet platform and only 76% very interested in the smartphone platform. The mild reduction, 2 points for smartphone and 3 for tablet, would not be notable except for the fact that Android has been declining over the past four quarterly developer surveys (except for the survey just prior to this one).

Google’s inability to curtail Android’s massive fragmentation, even with Ice Cream Sandwich, has forced developers to focus on the iPad as the leading tablet platform, and on the iPhone first for smartphone apps.

RIM Declines
Continued declines in interest in the BlackBerry platform on both phones and tablets - developers “very interested” in building apps for the OS fell to an all-time low of 9% and 8% respectively - open the door for another competitor to supplant the Canadian smartphone maker, especially in the enterprise.

This decline in RIM interest is dramatic, considering that almost 40% of mobile developers were very interested in developing for the platform in the January 2011 survey - again emphasizing the speed at which the mobile market is evolving.

This highlights the fact that RIM has to deliver both a compelling experience and massive developer engagement with Blackberry 10. The platform was revealed at RIM’s September BlackBerry Jam, and while the release is not set until January, it will be interesting to see if developers change their minds.

Windows 8 Holds Promise?

Developers believe Windows 8 holds significant promise, but is far from a sure thing. Coincidentally, nearly the same number of developers who said they plan to build apps for both Windows 8 phones and Windows 8 tablets said that they do not plan to build apps for either. It’s obvious that Microsoft has a lot of work to do to convince developers that Windows 8 will be a successful platform.

What interests developers most about Windows 8 tablets is the shared development capabilities between desktop and tablet promised by Microsoft with the launch of Windows 8.

This reflects the continuing issues developers face in supporting so many platforms, so many interaction mediums, and so many different ways that end users will consume an application. Microsoft support for the tablet form factor rated the lowest among reasons developers were interested in Windows 8, perhaps echoing Microsoft’s diminished position and the lowered expectations for it among mobile app developers.

When asked whose market share would be most affected by successful Windows 8 smartphones or successful Windows 8 tablets, developers believe that RIM would be most affected by a successful Windows 8 smartphone, and Apple by a successful Windows 8 tablet; however, the results were not definitive.

While RIM’s decline is widely noted, developers feel that Windows’ success could accelerate that decline, though 70% also felt Android smartphones would be adversely affected.

The tablet responses were less clear, with 80% of developers feeling that Android would be affected by Windows 8 success and 80% feeling that Apple would be affected.

Clearly, Apple’s dominance in the tablet space (outselling Android tablets three to one) means it has the most to lose. However, Android’s lack of success in the tablet space and its continued fragmentation mean it will be easier for Windows 8 to take significant amount of its market share.

Microsoft’s Success Hinges on Massive Device Sales
Regardless of who is affected, Windows 8’s success is far from a sure thing. Microsoft will have to deliver for both end users and developers from launch. A large installed base of devices was the number one criterion for 53% of developers when asked about why they choose to develop on a platform.

This indicates that Windows 8 will take time to catch up, given its low penetration in the installed base of devices. Thus, the first task for Microsoft will be to garner significant device sales to support a vibrant ecosystem, like those Apple and Google have engendered.

“Low cost of devices” and “revenue potential” are fairly closely tied for the numbers two and three reasons developers choose to develop on a platform. Low cost of devices was ranked second by 37%, and 38% ranked it third, whereas revenue potential was ranked second by 34.3% and third by 43.2%.

The preference for low device cost indicates why Android remains solidly in second place as a development OS, while the revenue potential preference highlights why Apple maintains its dominance.

The goals of most developers have always been understood to be fame and fortune. A large audience of devices gives developers both opportunities. Low device cost widens the audience for an app, leading to a good payoff for the massive amount of work it takes to develop a compelling application.

Revenue potential is what puts money in developers’ pockets, after the hard work has been done. Google and Apple have done the best job to date of enabling their developers to make money. Microsoft, RIM, and others still lag far behind.

The Cross-Platform Imperative
As highlighted by the predictions for 2015 of multiple form factors and the interest in Windows 8 to deliver shared development capabilities between desktop and tablet, mobile developers again indicated a strong need for a cross-platform development environment; 68.9% of developers stated that they plan to develop business apps for two or more OSes in the next six months.

The Top 3 Things to Know

In light of this perspective from the developers, what are the top 3 things the enterprise needs to consider when beginng the app development process? Micheal King, former Gartner analyst and director of enterprise strategy for Appcelerator suggests:
  1. Who is the  audience of the application? Is it internally focused audience, externally focused audience (i.e. customers or partners), or some combination? This will drive the OSes, app architectures and device types that the app will have to run on. In most cases there will be 2 to 4 operating systems, 2 to 4 devices and 1 to 2  architectures for each app.
  2. What are the backend data sources, web-based resources, social networks, and other types of data will this application consume? This will drive the type of connectors will have to be built, as well as the data exposure layer for the app. In a best case scenario most of these have been absolved to a Web services, or rest layer, but this rarely the case. As a corollary to that. what will be the special requirements of  the app; will need it to be managed, secured, distributed, or updated on a very regular basis? What tools, other than the development environment will be required to support those special requirements?
  3. Who will build the app? Will it be internally developed, externally developed (by an agency or outsourced partner), and after that, how will it be managed  and updated? Know what resources will be available that: Can develop on the platforms you choose, integrate the specific tools you require, and connect all the backend data sources you will need  to service the app.


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