In February, VisionMobile published Developer
Economics Q1 2014: State of the Developer Nation, which
“presents the latest trends in app development, based on our survey
of over 7,000 developers” from 127 countries. I spoke with Matos
Kapetanakis (Marketing Manager) and Dimitris Michalakos (Web
Technology Lead) about key findings from the survey, especially
related to the Open Web Platform.
IJ: What do you want to accomplish with the survey?
MK: Our Developer Economics series, now in its 7th
edition, is an ongoing research project about the App economy,
based on the largest developer surveys. Our goals are to track how
developer trends evolve over time and to investigate the important
issues of platform, monetization, and tools. Our aim is to help
drive awareness of the developer ecosystem, as well as to help
developers make the best choices. For this edition we surveyed 7000
developers, making this the largest developer survey to date.
Developer Economics is freely available for download thanks to our
IJ: What does the report say has changed in the past
MK: Because many of the questions (for example, on
platform mindshare) have remained the same across previous
editions, we were able to easily identify some trends. For example,
one year ago around 50% of developers were targeting tablets. In Q3
2013 70% did. The most recent data show 83% of developers are
targeting tablets. Smartphones, however, remain the preferred
device: 93% of developers target smartphones first.
IJ: How do developers think about smartphones and tablets
MK: It’s a matter of prioritisation. A total of 93% of
developers are targeting smartphones – 72% as a primary
device, that is, they first build their app for a smartphone and
15% as a secondary device. The situation is reversed for tablets.
Just 12% of developers treat tablets as a first priority, while 57%
treat them as companion development devices.
IJ: What did you learn about platforms?
MK: The leading players in terms of developer mindshare
remain unchanged compared to other surveys: Android leads, followed
by iOS and HTML5. What’s interesting to note is that Windows Phone
has picked up mindshare compared to the 6-month-ago survey, rising
from 21% to 25% of developers. While these figures are lower than
the leading platforms’ it’s quite telling this is the first time
Windows Phone managed to convert interest in the platform into
actual Mindshare. The timing is not a coincidence, as we’ve seen an
increase in device sales for Windows Phone, which managed to
outsell iOS in 19 or so countries. What we see here is network
effects, meaning that more device sales attract more developers,
which in turn should help sell more devices.
IJ: What are the key strengths of the Web compared to
DM: Reach, meaning cross-platform and cross-screen code
portability, open source licensing and a large developer
IJ: Your research and other reports cite “monetization”
as an area where the Web needs to improve. What are some of your
key monetization findings?
MK: One interesting insight relates to the percentage of
developers above the “app poverty line” of 500 USD per app per
month. It’s actually the minority of developers that are over this
line. If you take the median revenues from respondents per
platform, it is interesting to note that iOS has the largest number
of developers above the “app poverty line”, followed by HTML5.
DM: I would also note that the median revenue for HTML5
app developers is quite high compared to other platforms. This
suggests that contract work in large enterprises is lucrative.
MK: Also, over the past 2 to 3 surveys, we’ve seen
changes in which revenue model developers prefer. The in-app
purchase and freemium models have gained ground. Pay-per-download
and in-app advertising have remained mostly the same. These two
ways to monetize apps are the most popular models but not the most
lucrative. If we ignore contract work and ecommerce, in-app
purchases have a median revenue of $425 per app, per month while
the figure is $150 for pay-per-download and in-app advertising.
However, looking at median revenues across all revenue models, we
see that it’s contract development and e-commerce that generate the
IJ: In March, W3C is organizing a Web Payments Workshop to
discuss virtual wallets, secure elements, and so on. What would you
tell the attendees about improving monetization on the Web for app
DM: The Web needs a large-scale app store; Mozilla is
trying to do this, for example.
IJ: Please tell me why the Web is not yet home to many
app stores. In your survey you said, “HTML5 is still far off from
being an app ecosystem as it lacks distribution.” Isn’t the Web a
tremendous distribution platform? What’s missing?
DM: There are five cornerstones in an app ecosystem:
technology, developers, monetisation, distribution and discovery.
The Web solves the discovery problem, and does it better than
native app stores thanks to URIs and search engines. (Although, the
Web was initially made for documents, not apps, and there’s a lot
Payments should be at least as easy as they are on Android/iOS. And
on the technology front, you need to standardize the packaging
format for “out-of-browser” apps. Right now, vendors (Mozilla,
Microsoft, Samsung, Google, etc.) use their own proprietary format,
which leads to further HTML5 fragmentation.
IJ: In what other areas do we need to improve the Open
DM: What’s missing —which we know from other surveys— is
performance, APIs, and integrated tools.
DM: On APIs: HTML5 is missing a lot of APIs available in
native SDKs and there are use cases where the Web is simply
inadequate. Tools like PhoneGap are important for filling the gap.
And the good news is that PhoneGap follows W3C standards where
possible, and gets revised every time an API becomes standard.
HTML5 needs to innovate and lead the API race, by embracing new
areas of developer interest such as the Internet of Things
IJ: And tools?
DM: The HTML5 toolchain is broken. Developers write code
on vi or Sublime and debug in the browser. Each browser has its own
debugging environment. And even though they generally look alike
it’s the tiny differences that lead to death by paper cut.
Developers tell us they prefer Chrome and Firefox tools, but also
that they are complex for some activities such as for memory
profiling. Developers like Yahoo’s YSlow because it is easy to use.
So, yes, there are HTML5 tools, but they may not be easy enough to
How can HTML5 compete with Native? we recommend a unified API
for development tools to connect with browsers for debugging. We
claim innovation would fuel competition and produce the HTML5 tools
developers much need.
MK: There’s a related 2012 post on what the HTML5
ecosystem needs (Mozilla
Boot2Gecko: can the new HTML5 champion succeed where webOS
IJ: So the big message is “we need to look at the
ecosystem as a whole”?
DM: Apple and Google are working hard to maintain their
dominance. They have created a whole ecosystem, not just a
technology stack. To change the current duopoly you have to
convince developers and OEM manufacturers. You have to bring
together a complete ecosystem recipe: technology, developers,
monetization (e.g., micropayments, ad networks), distribution, and
DM: You need the full set of ingredients for the Web. A
Consortium of stakeholders could potentially create them. Single
players will have a hard time today challenging the duopoly. HTML5
needs to grow into a full platform. It needs a champion.
MK: Or, you erode some control points. For example,
Kindle devices are inexpensive; Amazon doesn’t make money from
device sales, they care about content consumption. That’s how
Amazon inserted itself into the Android ecosystem, by eroding the
app discovery, monetization and distribution control points.
IJ: I read in the survey that HTML5 mindshare is stronger
in some parts of the world. To what do you attribute this?
DM: Android and iOS devices are less available or more
expensive, so that makes HTML5 more popular. But this is changing,
and Android is taking the lead.
MK: Note that regional production and regional
consumption are different. Apps can be produced in any part of the
world for any market. But in South America, a good percentage of
app sales also happen outside regional borders. The ecosystem is
more global than regional.
DM: HTML5 is established in some regions. I believe it
could maintain that lead in some places.
IJ: Your survey focuses on smartphones and tablets. Is
there app momentum on other devices?
MK: The survey shows that, despite the buzz, only a small
percentage of developers are writing apps for TVs, M2M devices,
watches, and e-readers. This could change in the future. A lot of
smart TVs have numerous apps, but the cross screen experience is
not there yet. As we said a moment ago, the technology capabilities
may be there, but it’s still a matter of pulling everything
together (devices, store, etc). It’s important to create a unified
experience to drive manufacturers and vendors into a complete
MK: Overall, the fact that HTML5 is the third platform
despite shortcomings is very telling about the value of HTML5. We
believe the future of HTML lies beyond the browser.
DM: Keep in mind that a few days ago Google announced the
ability to create Android apps with HTML5, using Apache Cordova,
the same technology that powers PhoneGap. That should say something
for the future of HTML.
IJ: Do you mean you see browsers going away?
DM: No, definitely not. Browsers are here to stay. Pick
any modern platform and you will see there’s a browser in it. Even
the Wii game console has a browser.
IJ: Are in-browser apps going away?
DM: Again, no.
IJ: So if “the future of HTML lies beyond the browser,”
do you mean that you see FirefoxOS, Tizen, etc. flourishing?
DM: Not necessarily. Firefox OS might flourish, even
though it is picking up a fight against giants. Tizen has not even
launched a device yet. It would not surprise me if the champion of
HTML turned out to be Google or Microsoft. As we discussed, Google
already allows the creation of Android apps with HTM5. And
Microsoft seems to be heading in that direction with Windows Phone
DM: HTML is a mature technology with a large developer
community. It must continue to grow in the way we’ve described
(more capability, better performance, more complete ecosystem) and
one of the ways it will grow is through out-of-browser tools like
PhoneGap. Tools will play a key role in making HTML competitive
with native SDKs.
IJ: Thank you both for your time!
To readers: I also recommend a
slide deck with key findings of the Vision Mobile report. as
well as W3C’s own Standards for Web
Applications on Mobile: current state and roadmap.