With the smartphone consumer app marketplace having become somewhat saturated, mobile developers are increasingly turning their attention to tablets and applications for enterprise.
Those who have been watching closely will have noted a subtle shift in developer priorities in recent times.
To name just a few examples, popular note-taking app Catch announced a version for enterprise in May, task management developer Wunderkinder 6 introduced Wunderlist Pro for team collaboration in the same month and even Microsoft has now introduced the “AppsForSurface” scheme to get developers working on better Windows 8 enterprise apps. (Editor's note: Catch recently announced it was shutting down).
In some respects, this trend has hardly been surprising.
The bring-your-own-device (BYOD) movement has fueled the surge in iOS, Android and Windows devices in the workplace, while some enterprises have taken it upon themselves to deploy smartphones and tablets.
All of these devices, and the apps on them, need managing of course. ABI Research recently reported that the number of enterprises with independent app stores will triple through to 2018.
And yet this movement – which comes less than one year after one developer told TabTimes that “there aren’t that many enterprise-grade tablet apps out there at the moment” – could be about to move up a notch judging by a recent study from IDC and Appcelerator.
Surveying 6,046 Appcelerator Titanium developers, the two companies found that the number of developers building for enterprise jumped from 38% in 2010 to 51% in 2013, with this forecast to top 63% by the end of the year.
(App developer issues will be a key focus of the Tablet Ecosystem conference & expo coming to New York on November 13. Register today).
Enterprise apps are not without risks
Mark Mason, CEO of enterprise app developer and consultancy Mubaloo, told TabTimes that this represents both an opportunity and a risk for enterprises.
"Enterprise apps are now some of the most successful apps companies can deploy so it doesn't surprise us that more developers are starting to realise the opportunities here. Because a company can build apps for a specific audience, they are helping to drive internal process reduction and even cost saving,” said Mason.
“Having said this, the market is not without its risks. Developers that lack the expertise to integrate mobile with legacy back-end systems or lack the ability to build apps with security as a top priority will struggle.
“We have seen a large number of projects go wrong when companies have used inexperienced developers. There is a huge difference between building an app for a marketing project and building enterprise apps."
But independent developers are also looking at the enterprise tablet opportunity. The IDC/Appcelerator study shows that nearly the same percentage of mobile app developers expect to build for tablets (81.34%) as they do for smartphones (84%) over the next six months, a sure sign of the form factor's continued growth.
Apple’s iPhone (87%) remains the most popular device followed by the iPad (84%), with Android phones and tablets coming in third (with 77%) and fourth (with 65%) respectively. Developer interest in HTML5 mobile web apps is around 64%.
Developer interest in Android has shrunk since the start of the year and IDC says fragmentation has been partially to blame.
"This likely reflects fragmentation around the platform, unclear revenue potential of lower-end devices, and a lack of information about Key Lime Pie”, says the firm’s report. (Key Lime Pie is the codename for the next version of Android). "Only Google's own Nexus product line punches above its weight, continuing to draw developer interest despite a relatively limited audience and geographic availability."
Tablet and enterprise apps rise side-by-side
Denys Zhadanov, the marketing director of productivity app developer Readdle, told TabTimes that the rise of tablet and enterprise apps is not a coincidence, and says that it represents another sign that business tablet users are growing in abundance.
“I think everyone realizes how tablets can benefit daily activities at work," said Zhadanov.
“Companies are buying thousands of tablets so their employees can be more productive and mobile. Moreover, people are used to high quality software in the consumer market, that's why they want to have the same experience at work. It's time for agile companies, like we are, or Box, or dozens of others, with user friendly apps and services to revolutionize the B2B software industry.”
Ravi Bhatt, CEO of BranchFire, the productivity app developer behind the hugely-popular iAnnotate on iPad app, reckons that developers may be seeing one key reason to migrate from consumer to enterprise customers -- loyalty.
“Developers are seeing significant inbound interest from enterprises looking to have more input into how mobile technology is designed for the business world,” said Bhatt. “Also, many of the mobile app developers, particularly in productivity, started with consumers on a perpetual pricing model.
“As developers contemplate sustaining future product updates, that pricing model starts breaking down – especially as they serve more enterprise customers. That’s why you see developers moving to subscription pricing for enterprise products. It's not only a more flexible model for them, but enterprises benefit by paying for a service/app only as long as they use it. In other words, there's no long-term commitment."