Innovation

Why 10 million developers are lining up for the Internet of Things

The sheer number of IoT developers is growing exponentially. But, these developers are buying into revenue, not hype.

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Image: iStockphoto/Weedezign

The clearest indication that the Internet of Things is taking off is not by charting Google searches or by reading breathless media or analyst hype ("$11 trillion opportunity!!!"). No, the best indication of IoT adoption is developers.

And by that metric, IoT is soaring.

According to VisionMobile's new IoT Megatrends 2016 report, 4.5 million developers are working on IoT applications. That's a huge number, but one that can't be taken for granted, as wearables manufacturers have learned. In other words, just because the population of IoT developers is swelling doesn't mean they care about your app.

Big and getting bigger

IoT is many things, from smart homes to wearables to connected cars, with different developer ecosystems built up around each IoT pillar. Added together, the IoT developer population is massive and growing fast, as VisionMobile tallies:

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Even this may understate IoT's growth, however. Consider, for example, VisionMobile's IoT developer projection from just two years ago. Back in 2014, VisionMobile estimated that the IoT developer population wouldn't hit 4.5 million until 2020. Now, we're already there, shooting for 10 million developers by 2020.

Part of that discrepancy comes down to data. When I asked VisionMobile about the significant upswing, they acknowledged that their former methodology had "substantially underestimated" the IoT developer population, but that they now have much more reliable data.

And that data is saying that the IoT developer population is booming as it chases billions of dollars in new revenue.

Where to invest?

Not all IoT markets are created equal, however. While industrial IoT is nearly as mature as the mobile (app and web) market, areas like smart home development are still in their infancy, dominated by hobbyists:

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Sure, there are plenty of developers working on wearables and smart home applications. But the developers getting paid in IoT are working on the dull-but-necessary industrial applications, as last year's Developer Economics report unearthed. Any company that hopes to attract the hobbyists that dominate consumer-facing IoT applications needs to make it as easy as possible to get productive, which is why Google and Apple have been voted most likely to succeed.

Can't buy me love

Regardless, as VisionMobile's latest report highlights: "Developer interest shouldn't be taken for granted, and hype alone cannot sustain developer involvement. For example, the amount of IoT developers targeting wearables dropped from 28% to 21% in 6 months' time."

Partly this is a matter of hobbyist developers moving on to the next fun project. But, much of it stems from IoT developers getting smart about where to invest their time. As shown in the chart, developers still plan to build wearables applications. Just not now:

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As the IoT developer population continues to grow, ecosystem vendors like Google and Apple will need to make it simple for those developers to get paid. And, given their experience managing profitable app stores for developers, the smart money is on them to dominate IoT.

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About

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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