Android apps development platform 2012

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A long time ago in a mind-set far away, I spent a lunch with friends trying to figure out what we’d do if we could reprogram our cellphones. Our ideas were, in retrospect, lame. Maybe we would change the font on the dialer or come up with a screensaver animation. Wouldn’t it be cool if we could get flying toasters running on the screen of our cellphone?

The iPhone was still several years away when we came up with those ideas. The millions of ways people would be reprogramming smartphones just a few short years later was beyond our comprehension. The App Store and the effort of tens of thousands of programmers changed that.

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The smartphone has proven that a marketplace for delivering code can appear seemingly out of nowhere, and developers would have another choice for showcasing their wares. It’s not that the App Store was new — you could develop for Nokia, Windows Mobile, and Java phones long before it came along. But Apple eased the process and provided enough features that made it worthwhile for developers to start creating.

So when we say that some day in the possible near future you may be targeting your apps at users’ shirt pockets, not what they put in them, you may think it’s time for the straitjackets. But all it takes is a market. The technology is already there — sort of.

To help you get a jump on these promising platforms, we did a little digging in what might seem to be unlikely places. In many cases, raw APIs are already well-established, ready for apps to exploit them. Scratch the surface, and you’ll get an idea of the potential of porting your wares beyond the smartphone/PC paradigm. You can bet the manufacturers of these products are interested in establishing their own app ecology. And as we’ve seen with both the PC and smartphone, the first to arrive is often the one whose app gets the most sales.

Emerging development platform No. 1: Your car
The computers buried in your car are better platforms for developing software than your cellphone. While car batteries do run down and cars do run out of gas, they’re still more reliable sources of electricity than that tiny battery in your smartphone. The dashboard is already engineered to be at the driver’s fingertips, and much of the car is already accepting digital commands through the OBD-II (On-Board Diagnostics) interface built into all new cars. Though you can forget your smartphone when you go on a road trip, you can’t forget your car. Automobiles are made for apps, and their manufacturers know it.

Safety comes into play when developing apps for cars, and this is among car builders’ greatest detractions in opening up their platforms. While people can manage to change radio stations while driving, changing a CD isn’t nearly as safe. Plus, some argue, even the best-designed hands-free interfaces can’t solve the cognitive limitations of the human brain. The driver’s brain should put driving first; even talking on a hands-free phone can be suspect.

That’s just the surface. Computer programmers aren’t known for building crash-free products, and in the auto business, the word “crash” has much more ominous overtones. It’s one thing to let the curious programmer monkey around with the OBD-II interface to suck down statistics about the combustion efficiency of the engine, but what if that same programmer stumbles onto a switch that changes an important setting irrevocably? Curiosity may not always kill the cat, but it only takes a few high-profile mistakes to sully the platform.

Apple and Google’s mobile platforms are making billions of dollars for developers. For instance, Apple paid developers nearly $1.5 billion through its App Store in the first two quarters of 2012, according to mobile analyst Flurry. About 32% of the combined money flowing into Android’s Google Play store and the App Store went to developers of the top 100 ranked apps. That might seem like a large percentage, but in 2010 it was 55%. In fact, middle-class developers – those who publish the bulk of the 600,000 apps available in the Google’s and Apple’s app stores – are making a comeback.

In January, we predicted that the market for applications through Android and iOS would be about $6 billion. To date, Apple has generated about $2.14 billion in revenue from its App Store (with 70% going to developers). That puts the company’s app sales on target for around $4.5 to $5 billion for 2012 – likely higher, considering that the holiday season tends to be a download-heavy time. Adding Android app sales, our January estimate looks conservative. Flurry estimates the total app ecosystem to be worth about $8.7 billion in 2012, taking in-app advertising revenue into account.Flurry’s tally reveals two trends simultaneously. Overall, apps are bringing in more money as more people buy smartphones and tablets. Second, a larger proportion of developers are benefiting financially. This is the natural evolution of any market as the long tail of choices develops over time.

But the trend is not quite as egalitarian as it may seem.
The iOS App Store holds 600,000 apps. That is a lot of apps, and the inventory grows by tens of thousands every month. According to data from adeven, an analytics platform based in London and Berlin, the App Store added 26,646 new apps in June 2012. The App Store gained 250,668 apps in all of 2011. The sheer mass of apps added on a daily basis makes it very difficult for developers to compete with the eye toward the lucrative top spots in the App Store rankings.

Then there is the problem of visibility. Some 400,000 apps in the App Store have no visibility at all, according to adeven, meaning that they rarely show up in search or rankings. That means 66% of applications for iOS are in a no-man’s land of the application ecosystem and likely generate no substantial revenue. In short, the developer middle class that earns the 68% of revenue left by the top 100 ranked apps is effectively capped after the first 200,000 apps or so.

That does not mean that apps cannot move up in the charts. According to adeven, volatility (an app’s ability to move up and down the rankings) was 10.4 spots. If developers perform their due diligence (through media, marketing, engagement and smart decisions based on analytics), there is potential to move up in the rankings.

In 2011, many people in the mobile app development ecosystem worried that there would be little opportunity for the middle class of developers to carve out decent livings. While business will remain difficult for small and independent developers, there is plenty of room to create wealth within the mobile ecosystem. The top spots in the App Store and Google Play rankings are not set in stone, and the market remains fluid, waiting for the right application to disrupt the top of the lists.

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