Mobile Developers: It's Not About The Money

Apple iOS developers may make more money than their Android counterparts, but a new study from VisionMobile suggests that revenue is just one reason mobile app developers write for a particular platform. In fact, it's not even the most important reason. Not by a long shot.

Money, It's A Gas

Despite Android's overwhelming dominance of the mobile market, iOS developers still make more money. According to VisionMobile's Developer Economics Q3 2013 report, iOS developers earn an average of $5,200 per month while Android developers pull down $4,700 per month. And despite there being more Android apps being downloaded, iOS still generates more money, as App Annie Intelligence data suggests:

While this would seem to indicate a clear reason for developers to favor Apple over Android, the truth may not be quite so clear. Developers, it turns out, aren't primarily motivated by money. 

Which is not the same as suggesting they're a bunch of do-gooder Girl Scout types.

Maslow's Hierarchy Of Developer Needs

In its new Developer Segmentation 2013 study, Vision Mobile highlights key developer types:

Not surprisingly, so-called "Hunters" and "Guns for Hire" make up the bulk of the mobile developer population (42%), and contribute 48% of the app economy. Another 33% of app developers comprise the "Hobbyist" and "Explorer" segments, yet churn out only 13% of industry app revenues. These are the tinkerers who develop apps as a form of experimentation and personal enjoyment. The final group includes Enterprise IT and while only 29% of the market, it makes up 39% of app revenue.

Both of these latter two groups favor HTML5 and Android. This isn't surprising, given that they either need to be highly pragmatic (Enterprise IT) or they will choose a platform that allows them the most latitude (Android, HTML5) due to looser licensing constraints.

Most interesting of all, none of the groups seems to have money as its primary motivation.

Money drives just 28% of all developers, be they hobbyists or enterprise IT. Fun (40%) and creativity (53%) are much bigger motivations:

This won't be surprising to anyone that has tracked developer motivations over time. As open-source software went mainstream, researchers grappled with understanding the motivations behind an outpouring of free labor into a wide array of open-source projects. Each found essentially the same thing as Karim Lakhani and Robert Wolf uncovered: developers express their creativity and derive personal satisfaction through code.

Getting Motivations Right

As mobile ecosystems battle for developers, it's worth keeping the fun factor in mind. The platform that best enables developers through documentation and tools, while making it easy to get started, will eventually win. Revenue potential matters, as few developers can afford to work for free full-time. But ultimately developers are impressed far more by how a platform enables them to express their creativity and enjoy development.