What drives app developers? Is it creating great new experiences for consumers on their smartphones and tablets? Scratching an itch of an idea they've always hoped would be more than a napkin sketch? Well, sure, but the most powerful motivation is simply to make a buck, and that is why many developers are are building apps for the enterprise rather than the consumer market. That could spell good news for Microsoft as it tries to gain a mobile foothold the face of Apple and Android dominance.
The consumer market for apps is a hit or miss game, at best. For every Angry Birds hit, there are thousands of apps struggling to break even. So more and more app developers are building enterprise apps, where the path to profit is much more clearly defined, according to the latest developer survey from Appcelerator and IDC. The survey included 3,500 developers from around the globe.
The enterprise mobile market once belonged to one company almost exclusively: Research In Motion. The BlackBerry reigned as the beginning and end of enterprise mobility for much of the 2000’s, based on the strength of its security and communications features. Yet enterprise mobility has outgrown out of those basic functions as smartphones and tablets can perform many more actions than sending and receiving email. As RIM failed to deliver on the promise of the new mobile landscape, enterprises turned to Apple’s iPhone and iPad as the logical successor. Developers followed.
According to the survey, 53.3% of developers are interested in developing iOS application for the enterprise. That trumps the 37.3% of developers interested in Android for enterprise and marks a shift from previous surveys in which the platforms were neck-and-neck with nearly 44% interest. Apple also holds the majority of interest for consumer apps.
The lower level of interest in Android for enterprise represents an opening for Microsoft. During the rise of the iPad, enterprise IT managers said repeatedly that they wanted a tablet that was completely compatible with Windows systems. Microsoft is set to deliver that with Windows 8, Windows Phone 8 and Windows RT (the ARM-based version of Windows 8). Developers have been gearing up for the release of Windows 8 throughout 2012, and about a third of respondants to the Appcelerator/IDC survey said they were “very interested” in Windows 8 tablets.
When it comes to smartphones, Microsoft is going to have to prove that Windows Phone can be successful. Only 27% of developers were very interested in Windows Phone 7, a drop from 37% the previous quarter. The reason is simple: Windows Phones are not selling well. Over the same time period, developer interest in Android increased because of its ubiquity in the consumer market and diversity of price points. Android may not fair well in the enterprise market because of concerns about security and other factors, but developers are drawn by numbers and the installed base of Android phones remains a lucrative market.
Sales are the determining factor in the battle of mobile operating systems. The well-reviewed Nokia Lumia and the promise of a new device to enter the United States in April (the Nokia Lumia 900 from AT&T) stimulated keen developer interest for Windows Phone 7 in the first quarter of 2012. But, as Lumia sales continue to disappoint, developer interest weakens. With all the hype builds around Windows 8's upcoming release, it is only natural that developers will become more interested in that platform.
Apps define the mobile market, so tracking the interests of people who make those apps provides a good indicator of how each operating system will grow and evolve in coming months. Respondents of the Appcelerator/IDC survey expressed little to no interest in developing for BlackBerry, so it's a good bet that Windows 8 will likely entrench itself as the third-place mobile operating system. iOS and Android will continue to duke it out at the top of the market, battling for individual verticals between enterprise and consumer interests.
The recent survey drew on the largest base of respondents to Appcelerator/IDC's quarterly surveys to date. Nonetheless, it's worth bearing in mind that the results may be skewed by the developer base of Appcelerator and its Titanium developer platform, as well as the specific questions asked.