The battle for developer mindset has ended in a “stalemate”, with Android being a priority for 40 per cent of the market and iOS for 37 per cent, according to VisionMobile’s Developer Economics Q1 2015 report.

But Windows Phone and mobile browsers fare poorly, at just 8 per cent and 7 per cent respectively – although both are ahead of Windows 8 and BlackBerry 10.

According to the research firm, Apple “owns” the high-end of the device market, meaning “the iOS ecosystem appears to have a lock on the high-end that will be hard to break”. This means it is a popular target for developers, particularly in North America and Europe, where it commands “by far the largest share of professional developers”.

But even with Android weaker in the premium tier, “Android represent such an enormous global market” that it is still an appealing target, as fierce competition among device vendors opens up markets such as China and India, and lower-cost smartphones deliver the platform – and its apps – to a wider audience.

With Apple unlikely to move downmarket while it is still increasing device average selling prices and growing unit volumes, and Android unlikely to move upward while maintaining its position in the mass market, the result is that “most developers who are primarily interested in revenue target iOS first and those who prioritise reach over revenue target Android first”.

Windows Phone finds itself in an interesting position. While some major apps are steering clear of the platform, this means that some developers are finding that this means there is less competition – particularly in categories where big brands have left a gap, such as music and video.

But the lack of scale means that top new apps come to the Microsoft platform “quite slowly”, creating an “app gap”. This, in-turn, means that app-interested consumers steer clear, meaning that it remains less interesting for top developers.

“The market is big enough to sustain a decent-sized developer polulation, but is it ever going to be big enough to sustain Microsoft’s development of the platform and services? It currently looks unlikely,” VisionMobile observed.


Swift uptake
VisionMobile also said that the growth of Apple’s new Swift programming language has been “unprecedented”. Some 20 per cent of developers were using it just four months after its launch, and just under a quarter of these were not using Objective C – meaning that Swift is attracting new developers to build native iOS apps.

The study noted that while Apple’s Objective C has “steadily worked its way up to the current 39 per cent mindshare” it currently has, even today less than half of developers that prioritise iOS use it – others use some cross-platform or hybrid technology.

In comparison, Google’s “excellent” Go language does not appear in the top chart for server-side programming, and has only 5 per cent mindshare among mobile developers, after more than five years. However, rather than being designed for building mobile apps, Go is “ideally suited” for developing highly-parallel applications on the server side – “the kind of thing you might want for a backed for tens or hundreds of millions of mobile clients, or at least to process the data they generate”.


Tough economics
Slowed growth in app store revenue is also a cause of concern. The study found that 17 per cent of developers looking to make money generate no app revenue at all, while an additional 18 per cent bring less than $100 per month.

More than half of those polled make less than $1,000 per month.

Of those targeting iOS, 37 per cent are “below the app poverty line”, making less than $500 per month on the platform. Contrastingly, 39 per cent make more than $5,000 per month.

The report also said that those who prioritise iOS first also end up making more revenue from Android than those that prioritise the Google platform.

In more mature markets with higher smartphone penetration, the “middle class” of small independent app developers is disappearing, VisionMobile said.

“This is understandable as they compete with larger and more sophisticated developers for direct revenue from the stores but also for contract work with those in countries with lower living costs,” it continued.

This is causing revenue to polarise: developers can either form or join larger organisations to compete for the bigger markets, or find small niches to subsist in. And while there will be exceptions that “thrive” as independents, “they’re the exception and not the rule”.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the enterprise sector is lucrative: 43 per cent of enterprise developers make more than $10,000 per month, compared with 19 per cent of consumer app developers. A typical game developer is giving a third of gross revenue to app store providers as a cut of in-app purchases, and spending half of what’s left on ads to acquire new users.


IoT piquing interest
Despite the immaturity of IoT platforms, developer interest is high. A “massive” 53 per cent of developers surveyed were working on some kind of IoT project, with smart home being the most popular market – 37 per cent of developers working on IoT projects are targeting this.

The majority of developers working in this space are doing it as a hobby (30 per cent) or side project (under 20 per cent), while working on mobile apps as a day job.