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As an aspiring android developer, reading this today gave me a distinct feeling of a rug being pulled under my feet.

While the research discussed, is about the Apple apps store, I believe it safe to say that everything is also true for the multitude of Android apps markets (or Plays as they are called these days).

If it's true, then what does it mean for developers considering up to mobile development as their chosen career?

Do any of you makes a living out of apps development? Can it be done as a full-time job able to pay the bills and put food on the table?

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closed as not constructive by Oded, Tom Squires, Justin Cave, chrisaycock, Bernard Apr 24 '12 at 15:53

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It could, though I wouldn't quit the day job before enough revenue to support oneself is produced by the apps. –  Oded Apr 24 '12 at 14:56
This could be a good question if it was rephrased and moved to answers.onstartups.com. Perhaps the core question is, "What is a realistic view of monetizing on internet startups?" Or, "Are we repeating the internet bubble of 2000 with mobile apps?" –  coder Apr 24 '12 at 14:59
You can make money, but due to the sheer number of people and apps available in either the Apple or Android stores, it's hard to say if it will happen. Rovio is a success story, as well as a handful of other people and companies, and I mean handful in the sense of "there are thousands of developers selling their goods". –  birryree Apr 24 '12 at 15:08

3 Answers 3

The article is missing the historical perspective. The same thing happened during the MS-DOS and early Windows era. Just like back then... Its not that you cant make tons of money writing mobile software, its that most mobile software is produced more as a hobby than as a business venture. So the existence of vast amounts of applications that never cover costs or generate much revenue really has no bearing on those companies that are professionally producing mobile based software based on their valid business potential.

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But perhaps they're being developed as hobbies because it's so difficult to do in a self-supporting way. –  Craige Apr 24 '12 at 15:49
And it was the same back then, too. Try making a profit selling shareware via dial-up bbs and mail order. Yet plenty of people tried. –  GrandmasterB Apr 24 '12 at 16:08

The problem with both the iPhone and Android ecosystem is the lack of proper versioning and upgrades.

As it stands now, if you release a paid app, you get 1 payment per user (often $1-$5). What I believe Apple and Google have overlooked is the recurring development and deployment costs associated with maintaining an application.

If you sell 10,000 downloads of your $1 app, you've now made ~$6,600 ($10,000 - ~1/3 paid to app store); that's hardly enough to realistically cover development costs. Also, if your application utilizes a remote server, that $6,600 will get eaten up pretty quickly in server maintenance.

Furthermore, as developers, we know that development doesn't stop at deployment; there are going to be upgrades, enhancements, bugfixes, etc down the road that you won't be able to re-capitalize on from previous purchasers. No matter how much more work you do, you'll never see another dime from someone who has already purchased your application (unless your application can be supported my an in-app purchase model)

I feel both these ecosystems make it difficult to provide a long-term career at this point in time. Perhaps in the future the markets will allow developers the option to charge for updates to their applications, just like we've been doing for decades on every other platform.

All of this is of course barring ad-sponsored applications which I personally find distasteful in that they utilize the network unnecessarily and drain mobile batteries prematurely.


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@downvoter - You're entitled to your opinion, but do always appreciate feedback as to why you disagree. –  Craige Apr 24 '12 at 15:33

Yes writing apps can be a full time job that will result in a reasonable income. Its not likely many people will ever become millionaires from writing apps though. The main source of full time jobs in app development are going to be through companies like Zynga, that have a business model of creating apps for websites/phones. The lone developer creating apps and making his entire living off that is unlikely to be anything more than the exception that proves the rule.

There really have been two or three ways that have shown to be successful in mobile app development, be lucky and create a viral app (Angry Birds), have the resources to flood the market and force viral apps (Zynga), or market app creation services to businesses.

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