Android, iOS Top Developer Mindshare As Lead Platforms, But RIM’s Not So Far Behind, Finds Global Developer Survey

When it comes to developing for mobile platforms, Android and iOS — the top two mobile platforms by device sales worldwide — are also first in the mind of app makers. But surprisingly, beleaguered BlackBerry isn’t so far behind: an indication that, if RIM really connects on its new BB10 platform, it could have a shot at some kind of comeback, or at least the support of developers to make sure it has the content ecosystem to attract consumers.

The findings come from the Developer Economics report out today from the analysts at Vision Mobile, based on the their annual developer survey of some 3,460 mobile app creators worldwide (we’ve embedded it in full below). The report also found that tablets are getting closer to smartphones as a priority, and that HTML5 is seeing some progress. But developing for web apps in general is still suffering from the fact that it’s limited compared to native platforms when it comes to functionality.

Asked what platform developers considered their “lead platform” — which one they used first to develop apps — iOS remains in the top position, with 48% of users opting for Apple’s operating system, compared to 44% for Android. Although Android is in many countries the most popular smartphone platform, iOS’s leadership here could be because iPhone/iPad users are still considered by many to be the most engaged of users, and so it’s a good testing ground for new products.

What’s interesting, though, is that RIM is not that far behind the two as a main platform, with 38% of developers saying that this is the OS they develop for first before the rest. That was enough to put RIM into the “lead platform” category. The same cannot be said for Windows Phone and HTML5 — which are at least 10 percentage points behind these three. What’s telling, too, is that Symbian, which is still a platform that is being actively used in new handsets, has been relegated to the “gap filler” category with Qt, Adobe’s Flash and feature-phone friendly Java.

vision top app

But that is not to say that RIM looms large in all developers’ roadmaps — far from it. Gauging priority across all platforms, the breakdown of native OS’s is closer to how they appear in worldwide market share. In other words, Android is the most important rising four percentage points to 72%; Apple’s iOS in number-two, falling five percentage points to 56%. RIM here is relegated to a distant fifth at 16%, behind HTML5 at 50% and Windows Phone at 21%. Microsoft’s OS performing better than RIM could be a reflection of all the work that Microsoft has done to get developers to the platform, but also signs that handset sales are picking up a little bit.

platforms used for development

In other areas, Vision Mobile notes that tablets are slowly approaching the same level of importance to developers as tablets: overall, 86% of developers across all platforms say they develop first for smartphones; but the figure for tablets is close approaching, led by those working on iPad apps. This is interesting in that tablets are still far behind phones in terms of market penetration, but it’s clear that engagement on them is high enough that it merits disproportionate attention from content creators.

vision tablets versus handsets

And when it comes to making money from apps, advertising continues to reign supreme, with 38% of developers opting for ads, up five percentage points on last year’s survey. Google’s AdMob remains the most popular ad network, with 65% opting for it first.

But when asked to report revenues, it turns out that mobile ads are the least lucrative of them all, bringing in only $1,014 per app per month. This might have to do with the popularity of mobile ads: both the most popular and the most niche apps rely on ads; those apps that are used by less people bring down the average. This reminds me, too, of what Rovio’s Mighty Eagle Peter Vesterbacka (and many others) have often said: that advertising only pays on apps if you’re a big player. Not unlike the economics of advertising on the internet overall.

At the other end of the spectrum, subscriptions are the least popular revenue generation tool, but they bring in the most money for developers, at $2,649 per app per month. Again, the high numbers may have to do with volume of users: there are  not that many using subscriptions, and a lot of the apps that will be implementing them are magazines, which are priced at similar levels as printed publications. However, this also shows that while subscriptions may not be the easiest to implement, those that have thought through how they might make their service subscribe-able are reaping the biggest rewards.

In the middle are in-app purchases and freemium services — whereby an app is free to download but you need to make purchases within it to unlock content (usually using in-app purchasing services). These two both grew the most of any revenue models — both up seven percentage points — and if you combined them together represent the most lucrative of all revenue generating services. This is another reason why it was so smart of Amazon yesterday to extend its own IAP API to apps for platforms beyond Android and Kindle Fire.

vision monetizing

The full report — which also includes details on the most popular cross-platform tools (PhoneGap is in the lead there, with Appcelerator in second), as well as most-favored analytics platforms (Google again, showing that there is some benefit to covering serveral bases with ads and other services) — is below.

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