The Burgeoning Market of Business Apps
As head of Appcelerator's Alliances team, I have the privilege of working with many of our talented technology and integration partners as they build out our ecosystem and leverage the Titanium platform to deliver rich mobile applications for their clients. I am constantly amazed by the energy, excitement, and unique point of view (POV) these dedicated entrepreneurs bring to our community. Today, I'm pleased to introduce one of our integration partner luminaries-- Brad Weber, founder and president of InspiringApps (based in Boulder, Colorado) to guestblog on a topic where we are seeing increasing interest-- enterprise applications. I met Brad a few months ago, and was immediately struck by his experience with, focus on, and passion for delivering engaging, rich business applications to his clients. So I asked him to share his perspective with the Appcelerator community at large: business applications — the past, present, and future.
Guest post by Brad Weber, founder and president of InspiringApps.
When Apple opened its App Store to third-party developers, there was a frenzy of activity in the developer community that produced thousands, then tens of thousands, and eventually hundreds of thousands of apps for the platform. There was no shortage of get-rich-quick stories about individual developers and small teams in the early "gold rush" days. Those stories fueled even more interest in the platform.
Roughly five years later, the App Store has grown to an astonishing 650,000 apps. But fewer than 6,000 of those are categorized as business apps for iPhone and fewer than 3,000 for iPad. The total is likely far less than 9,000 since many of those are universal apps that run on both platforms and should not be double-counted. Compare that to over 27,000 entertainment apps for iPhone and perhaps hundreds of thousands of games. (The total is not available in iTunes. There are so many games that they are further grouped into subcategories.)
Why are there comparatively so few apps for business? Is there a business in business apps? Why don't we see the same level of development activity? I explore those questions and others in the remainder of this piece that attempts to shed light on the peculiarities surrounding business apps.
Are mobile devices right for business?
Absolutely! For over a decade, work forces have defected from their desktop computers in favor of more mobile laptops. That migration has continued with the modern generation of very capable smart phones and tablets like the iPhone and iPad. Professionals in the field are embracing the portability of those devices, even if it means giving up some of the "horsepower" of their laptop or desktop. Having information at their fingertips and the ability to stay connected to customers and team members is paramount. We are seeing rapid adoption by sales reps, medical professionals, and field service personnel to name a few.
Why don't we see more business apps in the App Store?
Even as business app development is accelerating, we don't see a corresponding surge in the App Store for at least two reasons:
1. Businesses are building apps for internal operations. If they are producing an app to manage sales presentations for their team in the field, they often want to know how to distribute their app privately, intentionally avoiding the public exposure of the App Store.
The Android platform does not have similar restrictions, but Apple restricts the distribution of apps on its devices. iOS apps are published either through the public App Store or privately with a special Enterprise development license. When initially released, the Enterprise license was only an option for businesses with 500 or more employees. Since that restriction has been lifted, much smaller companies can benefit from the private distribution of apps they use to support internal operations.
2. Some businesses are choosing to develop HTML5 mobile web apps instead of native mobile apps. They avoid app approval challenges and licensing altogether and are able to deploy (host) mobile web apps in the same way they've been doing for over a decade with web apps on their laptops and desktop computers via their intranet.
Where are we on the mobile adoption curve for enterprises?
It is still very early. While some large organizations have made a conscious effort to build mobile into their business strategy and made a corresponding investment in the people and
tools to be successful, most are still getting started. The sole proprietors and small teams who flooded the App Store in the early days were able to move from concept to app in weeks. It is not uncommon for developers to commit a weekend to picking up a new development language, building simple apps in no time. In contrast, big corporations often need to study, form committees, train, and conduct trials before they can commit to a new technology. That can take months in the best-case scenarios, and years more typically. There is a good reason for their methodical (even if slower) approach. The apps they aim to build for their organizations are likely to be more complex than those that can be tackled by one or two people after a weekend with instructional books or online resources.
How are enterprises getting started with mobile?
We are fielding app development requests from departments within organizations while the overall corporate direction has not yet been established or the internal IT team is not yet capable of meeting app development demand as quickly as business managers need them turned around. Those managers see their competitors using mobile effectively or may have identified an opportunity to be the first in their market to do so. Mobile apps should aim to solve one problem exceptionally well. Given that focus, development budgets are often within a range a department can cover without the need for approval or financial backing much further up the chain.
Is there a dominant mobile platform for business?
We read the same reports you do that indicate that Android phones will soon overtake the iPhone as the dominant smart phone platform, if they haven't already. Microsoft is making steady progress, but slowly. Tablets are a different story. iPads still dominate. Kindle Fire and Nook have enjoyed recent success in taking some market share from Apple, but they are primarily consumer devices. Despite industry trends and market reports, we at InspiringApps see far more requests among business customers for iOS development than any other platform--over 80%.
What is next for mobile enterprise development?
Businesses need apps. I predict that their appetite will continue to expand for at least the next decade. Devices will become more capable. Developers will gain more skills to deliver more sophisticated solutions. Organizations will build larger internal mobile development teams to handle more of the departmental app requests. But there will always be opportunities for talented contract teams who are able to deliver solutions more quickly than a company may be able to do alone with internal resources or deliver highly specialized solutions where external teams bring expertise that may be lacking internally.
Corporate and independent developers alike have been swept up in the exciting wave of mobile development opportunities. It is a pleasure to be at the forefront as a whole new platform is introduced and matures. If you believe as I do that we are still at the beginning of the business app development curve, then these are exciting times indeed!
Brad Weber (@iaBrad) is the founder and president of InspiringApps (@InspiringApps), a dedicated team of developers and designers, building mobile apps for business in the heart of Boulder, Colorado. Considering mobile apps for your business or department? Check out their free iBook "Inspiring Apps: A Business Perspective on Building Mobile Apps".