Everything You Need To Know About The Fragmented Mobile Developer Ecosystem

Considering the immense fragmentation that characterizes the mobile apps industry, it’s good to see decent research help us try and make sense of what’s going on in that particular part of the digital economy, one that is consistently growing in size and importance across the globe. Hence, I invite anyone with a vested interest in the mobile developer ecosystem to check out VisionMobile’s extensive research report (sponsored by Telefónica Developer Communities) on that very subject, because it’s easily one of the most profound I’ve read to date.

Dubbed Developer Economics 2010, the free research report delves into all aspects of mobile application development, across 400+ developers from around the world, segmented into eight major platforms: iOS (iPhone), Android, Symbian, BlackBerry, Java ME, Windows Phone, Flash/Flash Lite and mobile web (WAP/XHTML/CSS/Javascript).

The report, which is based on extensive research conducted by a team of three researchers, five interviewers, and eight mobile application developers between January and June 2010, provides insights into all the touchpoints of mobile app development, from platform selection to distribution and monetization.

Some of the key findings:


- Market penetration is hands down the most important reason for selecting a mobile platform to develop for, chosen by over 75% of respondents across each and every platform. Clearly, developers care more about addressable market and monetization potential than any single technical aspect of a platform.

- Based on its sample of 400 respondents, VisionMobile found that most developers work on multiple platforms: 2.8 platforms per developer on average, even. Among iPhone and Android developers, one in five releases apps in both the App Store and Android Market.

- In the last two years, a mindshare migration has taken place (see details here), 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.

- According to VisionMobile, 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 stands out as the platform most popular among mobile developers. 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. Second in terms of developer mindshare is iOS (iPhone), outranking Symbian and Java ME, which were in pole position in 2008.

- Platform characteristics reveal a disconnect between developer mindshare and addressable market for each platform. For example, the Symbian OS 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.

- Evidently, most developers have a strong affinity towards the platform(s) they have invested time in; across all eight major mobile platforms surveyed, respondents felt that the best aspect of their platform was the large market penetration, even if the actual market penetration was relatively small.

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- Market channels that were mainstream a couple of years back take only a small chunk of the go-to-market pie for mobile apps today. 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. Research 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.

- App stores have reduced the average time-to-shelf by two thirds: from 68 days across traditional channels, to 22 days via an application store. 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 staggering 168 days when on-device pre-loading via a handset manufacturer.

- 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.

- 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.

- 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 do not work for low-cost apps, but only for megaproductions.

- The gold seems over-hyped: 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.

- Ad-funded models are only secondary revenue sources for developers employing app store and portal-based channels, lagging 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.

- 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.


- 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; 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.

- 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.

- In terms of debugging, ourbenchmarking 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.

- 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.

- VisionMobile’s 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.

- 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. Hence, platform vendors could benefit from tiered SDK programs, where privileged SDKs are available to developers on a subscription plan.

- 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.

- 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.

The full report is available for free at DeveloperEconomics.com.

51,972 app developers vastly prefer Apple, only 3% also do Android

AppStoreHQ founder Chris DeVore, whose site tracks apps for Android, iPhone, iPad and HTML5 by crawling their respective app stores, created an eye-opening Venn diagram of how app developers for iOS (the iPhone/iPad operating system) and Android are clustered.

DeVore says he and his team crawled their own database and manually checked 4,500 entries by hand to make sure there were no major bugs in their approach.

The resulting chart speaks for itself. Of the 51,972 app developers listed in AppStoreHQ’s database, these stats can be extrapolated from DeVore’s count:

  • 43,185, or 80 percent, develop solely for Apple’s iOS.
  • 8,787, or 17 percent, develop solely for Google’s Android platform.
  • 1,412, or 3 percent, develop for both.

Neither iOS nor Google has anywhere near a lockup of the app-spender market. So why don’t more developers create apps for both platforms? “We were actually impressed at the numbers of cross-platform developers,” DeVore said, “and particularly the number of recognizable brand names that had already made the leap to Android: Gameloft, Facebook, AOL, Amazon, Warner Brothers, Intuit.” DeVore has shared a spreadsheet of the top 100 most talked-about cross-platform developers.

DeVore thinks Google has made it pretty hard for Android developers to get found and to make money, but he believes the sheer number of customers they can reach and sell to has encouraged them to jump over the hurdles.

Don’t miss MobileBeat 2010, VentureBeat’s conference on the future of mobile. The theme: “The year of the superphone and who will profit.” Now expanded to two days, MobileBeat 2010 will take place on July 12-13 at The Palace Hotel in San Francisco. Register now. Tickets are going quickly. For complete conference details, or to apply for the MobileBeat Startup Competition, click here.

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AdMob’s Final Mobile Metrics Report: Android Rising, But Apple Still Dominates Worldwide

Mobile ad network AdMob (now part of Google) released its final Mobile Metrics report today (embedded below), at least for a while. AdMob gathers data from millions of phones and mobile devices which serve up its ad impressions, including almost 44 million iOS devices (iPhones, iPod Touches, and iPads). The decision to stop disclosing the data may have something to do with its new owner, Google, wanting to assess what it wants to let out there, but it could also be tied to the fact that AdMob might no longer have access to any iPhone data since Apple is specifically threatening to block it.

Whatever the reason, AdMob’s reports have proven to be a rich source of data on the mobile Web across platforms since mobile ad impressions on the mobile Web and in mobile apps are a decent proxy for mobile Web/app usage overall. So let’s dig in.

Over the past two years, mobile ad impressions from smartphones have grown from 22 percent of the total to 46 percent in May, 2010.  Apple iOS devices account for the largest portion worldwide, with 40 percent share. But as you can see in the chart above, that share has been declining since it peaked above 50 percent in November, 2009.  Over that time, Android has been steadily taking share, rising to 26 percent.

The ratio of handset market share to mobile Web and app usage is not directly correlated. Nokia’s Symbian has a 44 percent share of handsets worldwide, but only 24 percent of of mobile Web/app usage. In contrast, Apple only has 15 percent handset market share, and Android has 10 percent, but together they account for two thirds of mobile Web and app usage.

On a worldwide basis, Apple devices still outnumber Android in terms of mobile ad impressions by a factor of almost 3.5 to 1. In the U.S., that ratio is about 2 to 1.  According to an AdMob survey, iPhone users are more satisfied (91 percent) than Android (84 percent) or Palm’s WebOS users (69 percent).  Android’s 84 percent satisfaction is pretty good, but there is still a gap with the iPhone.

Some other interesting stats from the report:

  • While the iPhone is the single biggest device driving mobile ad impressions, Android phones account for 7 of the top 10 handsets (the other two are Nokias).
  • Only 58% of iPad users are in the U.S. The next biggest countries are Japan (5%), UK (4%), China(4%), and Canada (3%).
  • Android is less international, with 66% of users in the U.S.  But the No. 2 country for Android is China (13%), followed by the UK (4%).
  • HTC and Motorola phones account for 83% of Android usage.
  • Twice as many iPhone users download paid apps as Android users.
  • WiFi is huge.  Nearly a quarter of U.S. mobile traffic comes over WiFi. The biggest percentage of WiFi requests (nearly two thirds) comes from the iPod Touch—which is a WiFi-only device—but 35% of iPhone traffic goes over WiFi as well

Get paid to install apps with W3i Mobile Solutions and Apperang

W3i, a desktop and mobile application distribution network, announced today the launch of W3i Mobile Solutions — its new service which offers ad campaigns for iOS apps (which run on the iPhone, iPod Touch, and iPad) on a pay-per-install basis. Consumers will be able to take advantage of the service and get paid for installing mobile apps via Apperang.com, which also launched today.

After signing up at Apperang’s website, consumers are presented with a list of recommended apps, which they can install and sync via iTunes. For their trouble, users get paid $.25 for every free app installation, and $.25 plus the price of the app for paid applications. App advertisers only have to pay if users install the apps. Users can also refer friends to the service, and will earn 5 percent of the revenues generated by them for the first two years.

The W3i Mobile Solutions service is driven by the company’s “intelligent installation” InstallIQ technology, which also powers its entire application network. The software allows advertisers to include their products in the installation managers of other applications, giving users the ability to easily install multiple applications.

It’s a win-win situation for both developers and consumers: App developers will be able to target their ads to interested consumers, which will hopefully lead to better rankings in Apple’s iTunes Store. W3i Mobile Solutions also includes reporting features which gives advertisers the ability to measure the effectiveness of their campaigns. Consumers will get paid to be app guinea pigs, and in the process may find some little-known apps that they actually like.

Competitors like Offerpal Media also offer various incentives for consumers to install mobile apps, including payment. By launching Apperang, W3i is aiming to offer a single place for consumers to get paid for apps. Offerpal and other competitors currently don’t yet offer anything similar.

Apperang will eventually include desktop applications in addition to iOS apps, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see other mobile platforms included as well. An iPhone app of its own is also on the way.

The Sartell, MN-based company reports that 350 million apps have been installed since the W3i Application Network launched in February 2008. It says it has been profitable for 33 consecutive quarters.

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Why Mobile Innovation Is Blowing Away PCs

Editor’s note: Guest author Steve Cheney is an entrepreneur and formerly an engineer & programmer specializing in web and mobile technologies.

On the heels of the latest Android phone, the Sprint HTC EVO, and as we approach iPhone 4, it seems like mobile devices and platforms are innovating at about five times the pace of personal computers.

Rapid advancement in mobile is often attributed to the natural disruption by which emerging industries innovate quickly, while established markets like PCs follow a slower, more sustained trajectory.

But there are deeper fundamentals driving the breathtaking pace of smartphone advancement. Component vendors supplying to smartphone OEMs have evolved a much different DNA than those supplying to PC makers. Smartphones are an evolution of embedded systems, not PCs, and embedded markets have long favored vendors who don’t simply provide the most highly integrated chipsets, but who can also partner with OEMs to drive system-level integration and software at a rapid pace.

Hardware / Chipset Integration Differences in Smartphones vs PCs:

Intel’s monopoly in PC processors and peripheral chipsets has caused PC innovation to stagnate. “Chipsets” sit alongside a CPU and integrate auxiliary functions such as wireless and peripherals. By “bundling” chipsets with processors, Intel neutralizes competition on PC motherboards. Exceptions such as graphic chips exist, but Intel essentially “decides” 90% of what will (and won’t) be included on next generation PCs.

A great example of this is the notable lack of GPS chips in laptops. The fact that I have to type in my starting address on Google Maps on my $1,500 MacBook Air serves as a constant reminder that PC innovation has plateaued (even Mac hardware is controlled by Intel). It’s no surprise people reach for their iPhone when in front of a computer—the mobile experience is often better.

GPS is just one example of the ever-widening gap between PCs and smartphones. Sure, PC makers could add a separate GPS chip to the motherboard, but why hasn’t Intel pursued location as a core piece of IP in its chipsets to drive a better mobile experience for laptops?

It’s simple – they don’t need to. Intel loves high margins, and their market monopoly allows them to pursue margin at the expense of innovation.

In contrast, smartphone vendors have traditionally competed in a much more fragmented supply chain, integrating at a breakneck pace just to survive.  Today’s 3G wireless chipsets integrate GPS, Bluetooth, and 802.11n on a single chip. And the competition between great companies like Qualcomm and Marvell not only spurs further innovation, but also drives vendors to differentiate in system integration and software.

System Level Integration and Support Differences in Smartphones vs PCs:

System integration is the term for how hardware and software combine to create a finished platform. In PCs, Intel dictates the pace of hardware releases– OEMs essentially wait for CPU updates, then differentiate through inventory control, channel / distribution and branding. Intel and Microsoft win no matter which PC makers excel – they literally don’t care if it’s Asus, Dell or HP.

In the smartphone world, it’s the opposite. Dozens of component vendors fight each other to the death to win designs at smartphone OEMs. This competitive dynamic forms an entirely different basis for how component vendors approach system integration and support.

Consider Infineon, which supplies the 3G wireless chipset in the iPhone. In order to stay in Apple’s graces, Infineon must do everything necessary to help the hardware and software play well together, including staffing permanent engineers in Cupertino or sending a team overnight from Germany. Do you think Intel does this for Dell?

This level of commitment helps smartphone OEMs to iterate platforms much more quickly than they could do so alone. If Infineon slacks off at Apple, other vendors are pushing to get inside the next iPhone. This competitive dynamic simply doesn’t exist in PCs, which is actually a fascinating side-story to why Intel and Microsoft have traditionally failed in most embedded (non-PC) markets.

Software Platform Differences in Smartphones vs PCs:

We all know Apple deserves credit for starting the first wave in smartphone OS innovation and for restructuring the wireless industry. And though we harp on Android for fragmentation issues, Google’s commitment to moving the OS forward is noble considering Microsoft has only released 3 Windows refreshes in the past 10 years, and is yet to release a smartphone OS, 30 months after buying Danger.

The competitive interplay between Apple and Google will continue to help smartphone software outpace PCs. But iOS and Android also benefit wildly from the structure of the smartphone industry. Apple and Google are pushed not just by each other, but by the symbiotic advancement in chipsets and the system integration work of component vendors that I detailed above. The entire smartphone innovation value-chain just works.

It’s this overall combination of component advancement, system integration, and software which will continue to drive unprecedented innovation in mobile. Meanwhile, the WinTel monopoly is taking PCs along a slow linear path, where features and user experience drag way behind available technology.

As we approach the next evolution in computing as ushered in by the iPad, Microsoft and Intel are under extraordinary pressure to recover in mobile. But not only do they lack the technology to succeed, they will also fall victim to the inbred structure they’ve created in the PC industry. It’s very likely that within five years, tablets, smartphones, and other “mobile devices” will have permanently left PC innovation behind. And I’d argue this is a good thing for both the progression of exciting new technologies, and for consumers.