Mobile apps have changed the face of the software industry, but nearly 9 out of 10 developers believe they’ve barely scratched the surface.
A survey commissioned by Microsoft ahead of the Apps World Europe conference starting in London tomorrow, found that 86 per cent of the 400 respondents believe the skills required are completely different from five to ten years ago.
While 78 per cent say they have found that demand for skills has grown massively over the last few years, supply also appears to be on the rise with 48 per cent claiming to have only started in the past five years.
And 95 per cent are optimistic about the future of the industry, with 86 per cent saying they believe they’ve barely scratched the surface of what's possible with software and applications.
“The research was just taking a point in time, a snapshot, just to get some real meat on the bones of the theories we already had,” said Anand Krishnan, general manager for Microsoft’s Developer and Platform Group.
“One of the things that really came out, and you certainly see this in the developer ecosystem, is that you don’t have to be a developer to be a developer in this day and age.
“They come from a variety of backgrounds. They probably identify themselves first and foremost as marketeers, designers, creative of various types, then they pick up development skills they need to get apps published.”
But while optimism among the new breed of developers is high the research also found that only half of new applications (51 per cent) and software (51 per cent) are delivering a reasonable return on investment.
Gerlinde Gniewoz taught herself to create apps in 2009 shortly after Apple opened its App store for iPhone users, when the process was still pure programming and the host of development tools available nowadays did not exist.
Initially she was creating an app a week and generated a reasonable income from her portfolio, but as the process of creating apps was simplified the app stores quickly became saturated and the importance of an underlying “business vision” came to the fore.
“Back in 2009 you put a new app up and everyone downloaded it because it would be the latest app. Sales actually spiked for the first three or four days,” she said.
“Now you put an app out there and it has zero impact when it first goes live, so you’re back to the old skills of marketing.”
Gniewoz is now focusing her time on a multiplatform app called KO-SU, which allows teachers with no technical experience to create their own interactive classes for their students to complete on their mobile devices, as well as review progress and manage groups of students.
“If you want to do something unique there’s nothing to support that so you’ve got to go back to pure software development,” she said.
The Microsoft research also points to the continuing importance of more technically skilled developers with 83 per cent of respondents believing that demand for custom applications will increase massively over the next few years.
“I think it’s important to remember this space is expanding, we are talking about something expanding so there is no displacement. There will always be a home for people who can write smart code that’s algorithmically complex and solves complex problems,” he said.
“I think most of what’s possible has not even been envisaged by people yet. We’re in the first 10 minutes of a 50 minute game.”
As the stable of devices capable of running apps widens, from the current phone, PC and tablet combination to include smart watches, wearable electronics and even smart home technology, Krishnan says the demand for applications continue to rise.
And where he envisages the “real magic” happening is with apps beginning to interact to predict users behaviour, so that a simple text message from a friend saying they’ll be in London next week is quickly converted into a suggestion for a restaurant booking at a convenient time and place based on your calendar, your location, your browsing history and services such as traffic reports.
“Intent to action without the steps in between,” said Krishnan.