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Survey Dispels Hype About Mobile App Development

Despite the continuous barrage of new mobile app development products and services being announced almost daily, a new survey of real-world developers shows a prevailing focus on desktop apps.

In fact, most developers aren't building any mobile apps at all, if a recent survey conducted by Telerik provides an accurate representation of the coding community at large. Telerik provides UI controls and mobile app development tools. The company last month completed a survey of 2,200 developers and IT executives to determine the "App Development State of the Union," garnering input on priorities, problems, preferences, methodologies and approaches.

On the approach side of things, in answering a question asking about the use of multi-platform tools, 51 percent of respondents replied that they didn't even build mobile apps. What do they build? "Eighty percent of the developers surveyed said desktop would be a focus of their development efforts for the next 12 to 18 months, while only 59 percent said mobile would be a focus of their future development efforts," said Telerik's Gabe Sumner, announcing the survey results the blog post, "Half of Developers Still Doing Nothing with Mobile App Development." Telerik said the main reason developers weren't yet developing for mobile was "due to current workload restraints."

"Although many tech journalists might be surprised to see a headline proclaiming desktop to be alive and well, developers working on the front lines will probably be unsurprised," Sumner said. "Many development teams have spent years developing custom desktop apps that are used daily within organizations to enable employees and customers."

Nevertheless, mobile development is gaining momentum, albeit slowly. "While mobile is an obvious priority to enterprise decision makers, widespread adoption is slower than anticipated, while desktop and Web remain focus areas," Telerik said in its survey report.

What's the problem?
[Click on image for larger view.] What's the problem?(source: Telerik)

That momentum is shown in a question about where respondents' apps currently run. While 48 percent said tablets are the current focus, 59 percent reported them as the future focus. For phones, 44 percent said they were the current focus, while 58 percent said they're the focus of future development efforts.

The aforementioned results show not much has changed since the Telerik Kendo UI division surveyed more than 5,000 developers in January 2013 about usage patterns for HTML5 development. That survey reported:

While the market (and media) clamors for 'the next great mobile app' with many articles, blog posts and social discussions noting that apps are leaving the desktop and mobile Web sites in the dust, our survey paints a different picture. Reality suggests desktop and mobile Web sites remain the prevailing platform focus. When 5,000 developers and technology executives were asked, 'Where is the focus of most of your app development efforts in 2013?' it was a 60/40 split between desktop and mobile technologies.

The new Telerik survey touched on several other aspects of development, and the company listed the following highlights of the findings:

  • Of those developing for mobile, the majority are focused on Web/HTML5, leaving native and hybrid app development neck-and-neck in terms of adoption.
  • Open source technology continues to be an important aspect of the development process, leveraged in more than 80 percent of development projects.
  • Respondents seldom collect end-user feedback about app development priorities, though users are involved in app creation more than ever before.
  • When asked about Backend as a Service (BaaS), 36 percent were unfamiliar with the technology and 42 percent weren't using it. Yet, 68 percent of apps created today require real-time data.

Note that the respondents to the Telerik survey might not represent an accurate cross-section of the mobile development community at large. The Bulgaria-based company was formed in 2002 with a focus on development tools for the Microsoft .NET Framework, according to Wikipedia, and subsequently targeted many .NET technologies, with a more recent focus on HTML5, JavaScript and cross-platform development. Telerik noted that the survey was made available to the general public and to users of Telerik tools and technologies.

In fact, respondents reported C# was the most preferred programming language, favored by 81 percent, followed by JavaScript (47 percent); .NET/Visual Studio (26 percent); and Java (18 percent). In the consumer space at least, mobile app development is overwhelmingly dominated by Apple Inc. -- targeting the iOS platform with Objective-C (and, more recently, Swift) -- and Google Inc., targeting the Android OS with Java. Windows Phone apps, with C# as the language of choice, lag far behind the two leaders. Java and C consistently rank among the most popular programming languages, according to several indices.

Other industry sources, however, also suggest mobile app development may not be quite living up to its billing. For example, Telerik quoted Gartner Inc. analyst Van Baker as saying, "Based on anecdotal evidence, about 85 percent of enterprises have built fewer than five mobile apps, with 15 percent or so having never built any apps at all" in an Aug. 5 interview with Digital News Asia. On that same exact day, Kony Inc. reported on its own study in a release titled "Survey Reveals Most Businesses Lack an Enterprise-led Mobile Strategy."

Several other studies disagree, however, and Telerik acknowledges developers are shifting their focus to the mobile arena, just more slowly than the common perception. "Although our survey shows more than half of developers are not actively involved in mobile app development, it would be wrong for anyone to interpret these results as an indication that mobile is unimportant," Sumner said. "The shift to mobile is happening and the opportunities provided by mobile technologies are very real."

Telerik was recently named a "visionary" in the Gartner Magic Quadrant for Mobile App Development Platforms, and in June it released three new modules as part of its Telerik Platform, an end-to-end mobile development platform that combines UI tools and cloud services, designed to help developers build apps, regardless of screen size, OS, device or technology.

About the Author

David Ramel is the editor of Visual Studio Magazine.

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