The Multi-Platform Developer

Despite the candid efforts of Apple and Google, today’s developers are not wedded to any single platform.

Whether hobbyists or IT managers of Fortune-500 companies, developers use 2.9 mobile platforms concurrently, according to our recent survey of 6,000+ mobile developers. This is the first time we are observing a shift towards diversification, with our earlier 2011-2012 research pointing towards platform consolidation: on average mobile developers used 3.2 mobile platforms in our 2011 survey, compared to 2.7 in 2012 and 2.6 in our Q1 2013 research.

The new entrants of Windows 8, BlackBerry OS are capturing not just developer hope and hype, but actual investment of developer time, money and effort. And there are good reasons. More platforms allow developers to increase reach, diversify revenue opportunities, spread their risk, and cater to new requests for commissioned app development work.

Platform discrimination

At 2.9 concurrent platforms on average, today’s developer is multi-platform. In this world, not all platforms are equally important to a developer. Platform discrimination is abundant.

Developers’ platform prioritisation will follow their selection criteria, whether it is revenue, reach, cost, speed, discovery or dev environment that they are after. Beyond the lead platform, our data shows that developers are making conscious decisions to down-prioritise platforms to second, third or even fourth place.

The lead platform is where new apps and features are first rolled out and which is always the star of the marketing launch. Prioritisation will also have an impact on focus, app quality, sales and revenue. As such, the way developers prioritise the platforms has a direct impact on the overall perception of the platform. Consider that if most developers treat a platform as a second-class citizen, this will reflect negatively on the app quality and consequently, on developers’ revenue opportunity on that platform. Developers that prioritise a platform will act as evangelists for that platform, as they ‘re likely to create the highest-quality, most up-to-date apps and speak out for the platform at events or social media.

Our data shows that 84% of mobile developers are using iOS, Android or HTML5 (mobile) as their primary platform, as the next chart shows. Android and iOS are the dominant primary platforms, preferred by 34.4% and 32.7% of mobile developers respectively, while HTML5 is the priority platform for 17.3% of mobile developers.

The mobile triopoly

Naturally platform priorities are not one-size-fits-all. We see very clear trends emerging in developers prioritisation of iOS vs Android, based on audience targeted, developer experience, and app category.

The audience targeted (B2C vs B2B apps) has a significant impact on the primary platform selected. Looking at the consumer vs. enterprise app market, we observe that while iOS and Android are equally important to developers in the consumer segment, developers targeting enterprises have a stronger preference towards iOS. Moreover, HTML5 is the platform of choice for a quarter of all developers targeting enterprise customers.
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Platform priorities also depend on the level of experience. Developers who are fresh to mobile have a much stronger preference towards Android, with almost twice as many new mobile developers preferring Android (40%) than iOS (21%). This is most likely related to the steeper learning curve and higher barriers to entry for iOS, such as ownership of a Mac development machine and the $99 developer fee. More experienced developers tend to adopt iOS as their main platform: 44% of developers with three to five years of experience will use iOS as their main platform vs. 31% that select Android.

Android preferred by novice developers

Platform priorities are also influenced by the category of apps developed: Games developers have a slight preference towards iOS as their primary platform (37% vs. 35% for Android), while developers of music & video apps have a preference towards Android over iOS (36% vs 29%).

More importantly, platform priorities depend heavily on the developer motivations, according to VisionMobile’s Developer Segmentation Q3 2013 report. Guns for Hire and Hunters who are motivated by app revenues most often prefer iOS. BlackBerry 10 and Windows Phone are frequent favourites for Hobbyists and Explorers who are experimenting and care about learning and having fun. Finally, Android is a most popular choice for all other segments – Enterprise IT, Product Extenders, Digital Content Publishers and Gold Seekers – who are motivated by extending a non-mobile business with apps.

The real measure of developer loyalty

To understand the true picture of the multi-developer world, look not at how many SDKs are downloaded per day, monthly active uniques on developer websites, attendees at developer conferences, or how many billions spent in developer marketing. Instead, to understand the true picture of today’s multi-platform landscape, look at where developers are putting their effort, time and money.

In the words of Andy Grove, former Intel CEO:

“To understand a company’s strategy, look at what they actually do rather than what they say they will do.”

Developers’ strategy is set by the hundreds of everyday decisions about where developers spend their effort, time and money. To unveil how developers are really using the top-5 platforms we look at developer platform priorities.

The picture on the next chart shows a strong lead of iOS over Android with 49.4% vs 59% of platform developers preferring it as their main platform. Whereas Android has 4x times more devices shipping and a significant lead in Mobile Developer Mindshare, it lags behind iOS in terms of Android developers using it as their lead platform. This has fundamental implications in the feature, quality and marketing, and revenue delta that these developers will prioritise on iOS, and the resulting better experience for iOS users.

The picture of the duopoly becomes rock solid when one looks at lead platforms share. Within iOS/Android, the lead platform share is an average of 54%, dropping to down to almost half (27.5%) for the next three platforms, HTML5 mobile, Windows Phone and BlackBerry 10.

Lead platform share adds a lot of colour behind the dull “total number of apps” numbers that permeate the blogosphere. It explains why Android and mostly iOS app store stickers are the first to appear for new startups advertising their app on a website, a billboard or a taxi. It explains why feature updates appear first on these platforms, for most apps. It explains why so many Windows Phone apps lack the design edge and attention to detail. It explains why most HTML5 apps are an extension rather than a starting point for a brand’s experience.

Platform vendors should set see lead platform share figures as key performance indicators and benchmarks of their developer relations teams – there is no better testament to developer loyalty than to having set a platform as their lead priority.

Platform prioritisation

Beyond the duopoly, lead platform share drops dramatically. 28% of BlackBerry users prioritise BlackBerry 10 as their main development platform vs. 22% for Windows Phone. Looking at developers who use BlackBerry as a first or second priority, it is evident that BB10 developers are far more loyal, on average, than Windows Phone developers. For BlackBerry 10 this is an advantage that can outweigh its Developer Mindshare deficit vs. Windows Phone since BB10 developers will focus their attention on the platform, producing higher quality apps there first.

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Copyright © 2014 Visionmobile Ltd · Licensed under (CC) BY-NC-ND 4.0 · Developer Economics