Developer tools: crossing the frontier of platform innovation

Today’s app economy has created jobs and hobbies for over 500,000 app developers globally, using a multitude of platforms. In the early years (2008-2010) of the app economy, all of the tools needed by developers to develop and distribute apps were provided by the platforms themselves. After all, in those early days, all you needed was a development environment, a set of APIs to code against, a marketplace to distribute your apps through, and a way for tracking app sales. In recent years however, the number of apps has multiplied to nearly 1 million apps for each of iOS and Android, and a development environment and app store just won’t cut it. The bar for app quality has increased, and the app discovery bottleneck has been continually shrinking.

To support those 500,000+ mobile developers to innovate and stand out in the market, a new “SDK economy” has emerged. A storm of over 500 SDK startups and Enterprise IT incumbents, have emerged, starting in 2009, to help developers in everything from app prototyping and debugging, to user analytics, planning tools, and customer support. These days developers can choose from a gazillion tools to scale their development across multiple platforms, monetize their apps, test, monitor app performance, manage security, study user behaviour, cross-promote apps to attract & engage users, and manage API use and simplify use of cloud services. Our DeveloperEconomics.com website tracks over 20 developer tools categories, and over 500 vendors.

“The productivity gains from using external tools and services far outweigh the costs, which are negligible compared to the salary of good developers.”

Startup CEO, Sweden

The data from our last two mobile developer surveys consistently show that developer tools are not just nice-to-have. Tools are in the must-have app development arsenal of the most sophisticated developers, and also those making most revenues. In fact, only 14% of all mobile developers in our recent research don’t use any tool.

So which are the most popular tools and why? The next chart shows the breakdown of developer tools popularity, by sector, from our recent survey of 6,000+ mobile developers.

User analytics most popular developer tools category

Today’s app economy has created jobs and hobbies for over 500,000 app developers globally, using a multitude of platforms. In the early years (2008-2010) of the app economy, all of the tools needed by developers to develop and distribute apps were provided by the platforms themselves. After all, in those early days, all you needed was a development environment, a set of APIs to code against, a marketplace to distribute your apps through, and a way for tracking app sales. In recent years however, the number of apps has multiplied to nearly 1 million apps for each of iOS and Android, and a development environment and app store just won’t cut it. The bar for app quality has increased, and the app discovery bottleneck has been continually shrinking.

To support those 500,000+ mobile developers to innovate and stand out in the market, a new “SDK economy” has emerged. A storm of over 500 SDK startups and Enterprise IT incumbents, have emerged, starting in 2009, to help developers in everything from app prototyping and debugging, to user analytics, planning tools, and customer support. These days developers can choose from a gazillion tools to scale their development across multiple platforms, monetize their apps, test, monitor app performance, manage security, study user behaviour, cross-promote apps to attract & engage users, and manage API use and simplify use of cloud services. Our DeveloperEconomics.com website tracks over 20 developer tools categories, and over 500 vendors.

“The productivity gains from using external tools and services far outweigh the costs, which are negligible compared to the salary of good developers.”

Startup CEO, Sweden

The data from our last two mobile developer surveys consistently show that developer tools are not just nice-to-have. Tools are in the must-have app development arsenal of the most sophisticated developers, and also those making most revenues. In fact, only 14% of all mobile developers in our recent research don’t use any tool.

So which are the most popular tools and why? The next chart shows the breakdown of developer tools popularity, by sector, from our recent survey of 6,000+ mobile developers.

iOS developers most avid users of developer tools

Tools are for pros, not rookies

The best testament to the importance of the SDK economy, comes from the fact that the more experienced a developer is, the more likely they are to use third party tools. One could be excused for thinking that developer tools are for rookies, since experienced developers prefer to do things “their way”. Our data shows the exact opposite picture, as shown in the next chart. The more experienced the developer, the higher the usage of developer tools, and in an almost linear way. Experienced developers are much more serious about understanding users, reducing multi-platform costs, monetising from ads and fixing post-launch crashes. An interesting exception is the consistent decline in the use of BaaS, crash reporting and push notifications tools among developers with 10+ years of experience, as these veteran developers often opt for in-house solutions for integration with legacy databases or internal infrastructure.

The common challenge for developers is the tool discovery bottleneck. There is far too much noise in the developer tools space. Developers are often at a loss when required to select a tool for a particular job either because they don’t know any tools or because they do not know how to go about selecting a tool, i.e. what are the right questions to ask. Which is why experienced developers will have a better visibility of the tools market, knowing which tools are right for the job. Our DeveloperEconomics.com portal tracks 500+ tool vendors across 20+ categories, and helps developers exactly in knowing what tools are available for the job.

Experienced developers leverage developer tools

With over 500 developer tools companies, both incumbents and startups, it would be natural to think that the developer tools space is congested. Yet, with developers pushing the boundaries of apps, someone needs to address developer needs popping across the spectrum. One such need is for tools to help developers connect with, and support, users during the app usage phase. As notes George Karavias, Founder of education apps startup Anlock, “Users are not so willing to give feedback nowadays. Even if they want to contribute, they expect to see their suggestion implemented immediately, which is impossible – so they’re demotivated.” Solving the customer support bottleneck for app developers is an area where we expect to see substantial tools innovation.


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