We all know how pervasive mobile apps have become—most of us use one or more apps in our daily lives. There are nearly 1 million apps currently available: approximately 600,000 iOS and 400,000 Android. According to a survey by Robert Half Technology featured in a recent FierceMobileIT article, nearly half of US businesses will have mobile apps by the end of the year. On the demand side, TechCrunch reported in January 2012 that the combined (iOS and Android) total number of apps downloaded has reached nearly 20 billion. And with the prevalence of Smartphones increasing dramatically globally (see recent Google survey), it is indisputable that the demand for apps will continue to grow. But where do all of these apps come from? Who comes up with all of these ideas and develops them?
In the early days, Apple encouraged developers to create apps to fill the iTunes app store and many tech savvy individuals tried to develop their own apps (I had a few friends who thought they were going to get rich on a homegrown app). However fast forward a few years and now we see many apps are born during Hackathons. Steven Leckart of Wired Magazine (@StevenLechart) recently wrote an interesting article, “The 48-Hour Startup” (print only; March 2012), chronicling his experience at a BeMyApp Hackathon. I had heard of Hackathons before, but this article got me really intrigued – almost to the point where I’d like to participate in one. Hundreds of “idea generators” and developers congregate, in a warehouse or hotel banquet room, and for 48-hours work non-stop (without sleep and very little food) to generate a new app. Teams then present their app and the winners receive a prize that varies from cash to ad deals to investor backing to launch your new mobile app company.
So given the amount of dedication that it clearly takes to be a developer (even a 48-hour one), what is the incentive to develop an app? Besides increasing your cool level with your friends (or does it decrease it?), why do developers go through the stress of a Hackathon, or for the app companies, endless hours of codes and years of fighting technical bugs? That’s easy: money. The same Robert Half survey I referred to previously also found that salaries for mobile app developers are already up 9 percent from 2011. For iPhone apps, developers take home 70% from every App store sale. As of January 2012, developers had pocketed $4 billion from their share of App Store sales since 2008, according to an article by Lex Friedman at Macworld (@lexfri). Some app makers add to this income by including advertisements into their programs. And right now we are seeing the emergence of third parties providing new revenue streams such as services that allow in-app purchases of photo prints.
I won’t go into the technical details of developing an app (primarily because I don’t know them), but will just end by saying that if you think there’s an app for everything, think again. Who knows what these app developers will think of next. Let’s all follow the BeMyApp Hackathon this weekend to find out!