Mobility

New report claims there are 12 million mobile developers, and that's not nearly enough

Comparing mobile usage data with mobile developer numbers shows a big deficit. Here's why that matters.

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Image: iStockphoto/GetUp_Studio

A recent Evans Data report pegs the mobile developer population at 12 million, more than half the 21 million-strong global developer population. Given that Evans Data uncovered just two million mobile developers in 2006, that's impressive growth.

It's also not nearly enough.

Though the analyst firm expects that number will swell to 14 million mobile developers by 2020, the demand for mobile app and web experiences is skyrocketing. With two-thirds of all digital media time already spent on mobile devices, according to a new comScore report, developers need to start thinking mobile first, and fast.

Going mobile with development

What is a mobile developer, anyway? With over one million apps in each of the respective major app stores, it's tempting to think all mobile developers are coding games, but that's not the case. According to Janel Garvin, CEO of Evans Data, "not all developers are working on the client target side [e.g., apps]. Some are server or backend oriented, or are concentrating more on the application logic or more and more on newer machine learning implementations."

SEE: No one downloads apps anymore: True or false?

In other words, a "mobile developer" is as likely to be building server infrastructure as she is an app. What matters is the focus of all that development: Mobile consumers.

As such, it's not surprising that the Asia-Pacific (APAC) region has the fastest growing mobile developer population, given that both India and China primarily connect to the internet on mobile devices. It's also no surprise that lower-cost Android devices garner the most market traction in APAC, leading 2.2 million developers there to target Android first (with 500,000 developers left to focus first on iOS). By contrast, North American consumers are comparatively affluent and buy a bevy of iOS devices, pushing 200,000 more mobile developers in North America to target iOS first than do Android.

What is surprising is that the number of overall developers targeting mobile devices isn't much bigger than 12 million.

12 million and not nearly enough

Everyone seems to know that mobile is big, but this comScore chart helps to underscore just how big it is:

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A few observations. The first is that the desktop has been on an 11% slide this past year, and now accounts for just 33% of all digital media time spent. That's an amazing drop from 2013, when the desktop occupied almost half of our digital media time. Desktop managed to continue to grow, even as mobile bloomed, up until this past year. Now it's in freefall.

As comScore notes in the report, desktop media consumption is sliding at an accelerating rate. Mobile, meanwhile, continues to increase the amount of time we spend staring at screens and its share of that time. At the center of that mobile boom is the smartphone app, which owns 80% of all digital media growth over the past few years and roughly 75% of the time we spend on mobile devices.

That's huge.

Given that disproportionate share of time spent on mobile devices, two questions emerge: Why aren't there a lot more mobile developers rising to meet the demand, and why are so many developers still fixated on desktop experiences?

Sure, mobile is hard. Though apps are big, the likelihood that any particular app will be big is vanishingly small. According to comScore's report, mobile users spend 90% of their smartphone time in their top-five most used apps, leaving very little time for any other apps. This is one reason I've argued that an app-only strategy is likely to fail.

SEE: Your app strategy is probably going to fail. Here's how to fix it

But, given that mobile app adoption keeps consistently rising among every age demographic, developers that sit out this overwhelming shift to mobile stand to lose big, and forever.

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In short, we need more mobile developers. Twelve million isn't nearly enough. Given how much time we spend with our mobile devices, time that keeps going up, enterprises and their developers need to be keeping pace.

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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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