Mobility

Enterprise apps pay the bills for mobile developers

It's not as cool to build enterprise apps, but it's a heck of a lot more profitable, according to a new survey.

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Mobile developers continue to chase gold in consumer-facing apps, even though the easy money remains in the enterprise. In fact, according to a new 8,000-strong VisionMobile survey, while just 19% of consumer app developers make more than $10,000 per app each month, a whopping 43% of enterprise app developers do.

The enterprise may not be as sexy, but it sure seems to offer a sexier paycheck.

The mobile income gap is widening

Mobile may be hot, but over 50% of mobile developers can't pay the rent with the money they earn from app development, according to VisionMobile's survey. Just over 52% of all mobile developers earn less than $1,000 per app per month (Figure A).

Figure A

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Image: VisionMobile

As the report covers, this app poverty isn't evenly distributed. The report notes, "Of those that prioritise iOS, only 37% are below the app poverty line, making less than $500 per month on iOS. On the opposite end of the revenue scale, 39% make more than $5,000 per month on the iOS platform."

iOS, it would seem, paves the way to mobile riches.

In fact, even those developers who prioritize iOS but also develop for Android make more from Android apps than their Android-first peers do.

But this isn't as meaningful as it might first appear. Android-first developers tend to congregate in emerging markets, where Apple phones impose a price tag that comparatively few can afford. In such markets, Android helps to create a smartphone market, even as iOS developers skim profits from the relatively affluent.

There is one clear way out of Android app poverty, however, and it extends beyond rich postal codes: the enterprise.

Boring enterprise pays the bills

The road to getting consumers to pay for apps is littered with in-app purchases and other ways to convince them to part with cash. But enterprises eliminate this end-user aversion to payment by buying in bulk. That is, if the enterprise wants its employees to use an app, it will pay upfront for development and then give it away for free.

Alternatively, developers targeting enterprise employees with productivity apps stand a good chance of getting all those app purchases reimbursed.

Whichever road enterprise app developers take, it's clearly a more certain route to a paycheck than the speculative consumer approach (Figure B).

Figure B

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Image: VisionMobile

Still not convinced?

Well, let's break down where consumers spend their time. Of the average 25 apps we download in the US, a quarter of those will get used only once. Of those that remain and get used, Flurry data indicates that most app usage won't be for the kinds of apps you develop: Gaming (32%), Facebook (17%), Social Messaging (9.5%), Twitter (1.5%), Utilities (8%), and YouTube (4%).

Unless you're building a game or you're Facebook, you're competing for a relatively small fraction of mobile app usage.

Sure, there are strategies for increasing engagement with your app, and you should absolutely embrace them. But let's be clear: consumer apps constitute a very tough business, with very few winners and lots (and lots) of losers.

The enterprise, by contrast, is more egalitarian in the success its developers find.

So while it's likely that mobile developers will continue to flock to consumer apps because it's far nicer to tell your parents you built the latest WhatsApp than that you developed an expense management app, the reality is the latter will help you move out of their basement.

The consumer app? Probably not.

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About Matt Asay

Matt Asay is a veteran technology columnist who has written for CNET, ReadWrite, and other tech media. Asay has also held a variety of executive roles with leading mobile and big data software companies.

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