State of the Mobile Developer Mindshare

Has the platform landgrab ended? Well, Android and iOS maintain their Mobile Developer Mindshare since our last survey published in Q1 2013. Our latest research of 6,000+ mobile developers shows Android leading at 71% of developers using the platform, followed by iOS at 56%. HTML5 has entrenched itself as a mobile development technology of choice, with 52% of the developer population using HTML5 technologies for developing mobile apps. The Mindshare chart shows the % of developers using each platform out of the total mobile developer population.

We still stop short of calling this a triopoly though, for two good reasons. Firstly, HTML5 is a technology stack, not a full ecosystem like Firefox OS. Secondly, most HTML5 mobile developers are targeting the browser, with a minority targeting iOS/Android app stores through PhoneGap, so in any case end up “hitting” the same iOS and Android devices which form the vast majority of smartphones sold.

Mobile Developer Mindshare Q3 2013

Meanwhile Windows Phone has – for the third  time running – failed to capitalise on the huge interest that developers have shown in the platform, remaining in fourth place, significantly behind the incumbents. Despite extensive marketing efforts, slightly increased sales of Windows Phone devices and generous developer programs, Microsoft is still struggling to convince developers that its platform can compete head-to-head with Android or iOS, since the platform lacks in user reach, which is the most motivator for developers to invest in a platform. To adopt a new platform, developers need to consider not just the learning curve of Windows Phone, but also the opportunity cost of scaling down on iOS or Android. Where these costs are softened is the case of Windows 8, which can attract traditional developers who haven’t yet made the transition to mobile and are already familiar with the Windows toolset. Still, user reach remains a fundamental platform adoption reason, and in 2013, the tables are clearly skewed towards Android and iOS.

BlackBerry has managed to retain Mobile Developer Mindshare, with the new BlackBerry 10 platform having almost the same mindshare as the legacy BlackBerry 5/6/7 had just before the release of BB10 six months ago. While it lags behind WP in terms of Mobile Developer Mindshare, BB10 does pose a viable threat to Windows Phone as it has managed to amass a sizable following in just a few months following its initial launch. This makes BB10 one of the most successful operations of transitioning developers across platforms.

Beyond BlackBerry 10, the decline of older generation platforms such as JavaME, Flash/AIR and Symbian continues, as the platforms are being phased out, with the device sales base declining with the Developer Mindshare. These platforms have now become case studies of the demise of once thriving ecosystems of the pre- app store era.

Samsung’s bada experiment is coming to an end, having failed to gather Developer Mindshare despite a promising user reach, that saw higher sales than Windows Phone in 2011 and most of 2012. In retrospect, bada’s performance is exactly the opposite that of BB10: where BB10 thrives in developer mindshare, it suffers in device shipments (the equivalent of user mindshare).

The case of bada is also an interesting example of the network effects that dominate app ecosystems: user adoption does not suffice in the new app economy. The positive feedback loop must include developers who benefit from an increased user base. If developers are left out of the loop, the necessary network effects will not kick-in and the platform will fail to grow. Samsung’s and Intel’s attempt at a home-grown platform, Tizen has some early developer adopters but with no devices in the market it is too early to risk predictions.

Developer Intentshare

The Q3 2013 Mobile Developer Intentshare data shows a few new kids that have appeared on the block.

Mobile Developer Intentshare Q3 2013

The strong interest in Windows Phone observed in past surveys is still there (35% of developers planning to adopt WP) but has subsided considerably since November 2012 (47%) as new contenders BlackBerry 10 and Firefox OS are capturing developer attention, with over a quarter of developers expressing their interest in each of the latter platforms. Microsoft’s inability to convert Windows Phone interest into adoption is due to lack of commercial traction (the equivalent of user mindshare), with Windows Phone sales accounting for just 3% of smartphone sales in Q1 2013.

BlackBerry has been successful in transitioning BB legacy developers over to its new BB10 platform, and creating the third-highest Mobile Developer Intentshare after Windows 8 and Windows Phone at 28% of all developers planning to adopt a new platform. The real challenge for BlackBerry now is not to transition, but to recruit new developers, as Firefox OS and Windows 8 are gaining momentum and competing for Developer Mindshare. The ease of porting Android apps to BlackBerry will lower barriers for developers that want to experiment with BlackBerry, but the company’s biggest developer relations headache will be Microsoft’s sizable developer marketing budgets for Windows 8.

Mozilla, has provided the missing web platform: until now web technology lacked the ingredients that would turn a technology solution into a platform: as a single API set and development environment, and a means to distribute, monetise and discover web apps. With HTML5 already being used by more than half of mobile developers, the prospects for Firefox OS are looking good and there is a very healthy level of interest in the platform. Our data shows that 27% of developers are planning to adopt Firefox OS, out of those that plan to adopt any platform. In terms of Mobile Developer Intentshare, this puts Firefox OS just ahead of iOS and Android.

In just a short space of time, Firefox OS has managed to amass a respectable Developer Intentshare, even before devices hit the market, and while competing for Windows Phone, Windows 8 and BlackBerry 10 all of which are much older platforms, with devices in market and billions of market dollars behind them. The insight here is that early adopters are driven by the promise of HTML5 openness and cross-platform capabilities.

Yet Mozilla needs to deliver on its promise. Much like BlackBerry, Mozilla must deliver value to both developers and users to succeed where Microsoft has so far failed. Getting right one part of this equation (e.g. just developers) will clearly not suffice. And profitability for smartphone makers has little to do with using Firefox OS or Android.

Tizen exhibits some level of developer interest but without any devices in the market it is too early to say whether this will materialise beyond developer hype. Tizen’s HTML5 pedigree is aiming at attracting web developers and it’s “open-source, standards-based software platform” is aimed at softening the dependence on Samsung.

While several platforms currently appear as distant challengers to the Android-iOS duopoly, the economics of app ecosystems are such that any position below the top is unsustainable. The governing network effects favour the growth of the first comer platforms while inhibiting the growth of laggards.

Platform owners do not only face the challenge of recruiting developers, but also convincing users that iDevices and Androids are not their only option. This is much easier to achieve in developing markets where Apple is weaker (such as in Africa) or where, for example, BlackBerry is stronger (such as in South America). Indeed, there are significant differences in platform adoption across regional markets. This is due to different demographics or regional influence that vendors have achieved by focusing on specific markets.

Mobile Developer Mindshare by region Q3 2013

Clearly, the leaders (Android and iOS) as well as HTML5 dominate every regional market. At the same time, we see that there is significant variance in the level of regional Developer Mindshare: iOS commands a 62% Mindshare in North America but only 48% in Asia and 33% in Africa. And Windows Phone is stronger in Asia than in North America.

Regional Developer Mindshare is of course tied to regional device sales. Developers will adopt platforms depending on their strength in their market. While developers are not bound by regional markets, i.e. they can sell apps globally, the majority of developers will target local markets, as we saw in Developer Economics 2012.

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