The largest developer community: a critical view

When developers evaluate new technologies, one of the elements they often look at is the size and strength of the community surrounding that technology. “Can I get help and support from peers when needed?” It’s one of the reasons why open source technologies tend to be so popular. Conversely, technology vendors regularly signal their virtue with community numbers: “Our product is used by millions of developers, choose us!”

However, there is reason to be critical of this line of thinking. The activity of a core group, or indeed the vendor itself, may matter more to get great support than the sheer number of users. Most technologies are not subject to network effects: they don’t become inherently more valuable when more developers adopt them. Even in open source projects, there is often only a small number of core contributors. Furthermore, vendors may bloat the numbers they report: deliberately, or simply because they don’t have good data available.

At /Data, we’ve been maintaining and publishing estimates on the global developer community for a few years now. Our biannual survey also gives us a solid idea of how those developers are spread across various communities. So let’s see where some of the largest developer communities can be found and how powerful those communities may really be.

What do you mean by “community”?

The largest regions in terms of developer population are North America, with an estimated 4 million active software developers in mid 2018, and Europe (3.8M in the EU28). However, calling these communities is a bit of a stretch. Developers in these regions are fragmented across countries and cities, as well as technologies and languages. North America includes the relatively homogenous USA, but also various Latin American countries. Europe includes software powerhouses like the United Kingdom, but also smaller Eastern European countries. From the perspective of finding peers to support you (or talent to recruit), looking at small groups gathered in cities around specific technologies is more useful than considering the wider geography.

The largest developer program in our research, with over 10 million active users globally, is Google. Google is great at empowering and supporting their community through forums and the likes. This said, they also have excellent developer satisfaction scores when it comes to vendor-driven support of developers with documentation, tutorials and training, tooling, and so on. Google is the default choice for many developers; it’s not clear whether that is due to the strength of their community or due to the value they provide themselves. They of course offer a multitude of technologies, where experience in one product doesn’t necessarily translate into another. Perhaps it’s more correct to view them as a collection of communities.

What about different sectors of the software industry? More than 14 million developers are involved in creating web apps. Once again, we can wonder about the fragmentation in this community across technologies. A sector view may not be the right level of analysis.

Finally, we can look at a technology. There are over 10 million active Javascript developers, making it the most popular programming language in the world today. Here we may see a stronger sense of community, with forums, real-life groups, learning institutions and more being organised specifically around the language.

In short, when we say “community”, it’s not trivially clear what we mean by that. (Neither is “developer” for that matter, but that’s a story for another blog post). Community size is not necessarily an indicator of homogeneity, coherence or level of activity. That makes it less than straightforward to assess the value of a developer community.

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How (not) to count developers

If you’re interested in estimates of developer communities, you will have no doubt seen very high numbers being floated. Developer tools routinely reports user numbers in the millions; communities who claim a broad reach, like Stack Overflow or Github, will report tens of millions of developers. At /Data, we are skeptical of such numbers, in particular if you intend to use them to make adoption decisions.

First, because it is not clear where each source draws the line in what they consider to be an (active) developer. Are IT professionals, DevOps, or sysadmins included? What about people who once made an account, but never actively used the product?

However, the bigger issue seems to be where such numbers are sourced. Most estimates floating around the internet are based on (unique) pageviews, downloads, IP addresses, and the likes. All of these are susceptible to a multiplier effect, not in the least due to multi-machine and multi-browser software testing, frequent cleaning of caches and cookies for testing, repeat downloads of developer tools, and development automation (e.g. build servers). Abandoned accounts may significantly skew the estimates as well. Sometimes, numbers we’ve come across seem to be based on nothing at all.

Measurements like that are only a vague indication of the number of actual active developers and therefore of the strength of the community. They tend to be not comparable across vendors. Not to mention that it is in the self-interest of the vendor to report the biggest number they can find. Indicators that indicate actual developer activity, like Monthly Active Users, are exceedingly rare.

Conclusion

Whether you’re a developer thinking about the direction of your career, or someone who is deciding on which technology to adopt, the question of how strong the supporting community is, is perfectly legitimate. To asses the true benefit of community, however, make sure to use the right scope and reliable, meaningful numbers. On our part, we will continue to provide you with our best estimates of active software developers, using sources that are direct evidence of recent coding activity.

If you are interested in having a look at a list of the largest developer communities in terms of active users have a look at the 1 Million Developer Club .

How Satisfied are Software Developers with Google, Amazon, and Facebook?

The absolute leader in developer satisfaction is Unity; according to SlashData’s recently released Developer Program Benchmarking report. This proves that not only the companies with the most traction and the biggest budgets can create excellent developer support programs.

Every six months SlashData benchmarks the top developer programs against each other, in the largest study of its kind. Last week we released the Developer Program Benchmarking report where over 21,000 respondents from 150 countries across mobile, desktop, IoT, cloud, web, games, AR/VR and machine learning and data science were asked which development resources they use and how satisfied they are with them.

Developer Program Benchmarking H2 2017 Satisfaction Chart

Google, Microsoft, and Mozilla are not only among the largest developer programs; they lead the pack in terms of developer satisfaction and engagement. Other major developer companies like Amazon, Facebook, Oracle, and Apple follow at some distance.

Unity and Unreal, unlike Microsoft, Google, Amazon, and others, cater to the specific niche of game developers. Unity has the highest developer satisfaction of all programs in our list; Unreal is number three in the list. Tencent, the producer of WeChat who mostly addresses a geographical developer segment in China, has a level of engagement that’s on par with giants like Facebook and Amazon (its Western counterparts in some sense), despite being one of the smallest programs in our survey. Other companies like NVIDIA and Cisco may have moderate overall performances, but lead the way in important attributes such as training or access to devices.

To reach these results, first we measure what developers value in resources and activities, in all its diversity across several segments of the developer population. Second, by measuring each program’s impact in terms of adoption, engagement (frequency of use), and developer satisfaction. Third, by highlighting the best practice leaders: those vendors that are doing an excellent job in specific aspects of developer programs, to whom you can look for inspiration and insights on how to improve. There is no single leader across all of the 20 activities we measure – everyone can improve somewhere.

“In this third edition of Developer Program Benchmarking, we matched for the first time how budget allocation in major programs aligns with the expectations of developers. We now have the data to back up our long-time suspicion that events and conferences may not be the best value for money. Also for the first time, we show how expectations are shifting, i.e. which activities are becoming more important to developers over time. We now have a more complete picture of how to get the best return on investment for developer-facing activities.” notes Stijn Schuermans, Senior Business Analyst at SlashData.

To access the full study drop us a note at sales@slashdata.co or download the brochure.

Unity leads the way in developer satisfaction

As software continues to eat the world (to paraphrase Marc Andreessen), software developers fulfill an ever more critical role in the progress of technology and, by extension, society. Supporting developer productivity is good for business. Those developers then become innovators – co-creators – that give a boost to your core business.

It’s also challenging. Developer programs consist of a myriad of activities, ranging from simple providing sample code and developer education, to tooling, to in-person events and online communication. It’s hard to be great at everything, and it’s hard to allocate effort and money effectively for maximum impact.

Every six months we benchmark top developer programs against each other. First, by measuring what developers value in those resources and activities, in all its diversity across several segments of the developer population. Second, by highlighting the best practice leaders: those vendors that are doing an excellent job in specific aspects of developer programs, to whom you can look for inspiration and insights on how to improve. There is no single leader across all of the 20 activities we measure – everyone can improve somewhere.

unity leads developer satisfaction

The top spot in terms of developer satisfaction is taken by Unity, with an overall developer satisfaction score of 75 out of 100. Unity shows exceptional performance on several attributes: tutorials, how-to videos & webinars, and official forums. This may be skewed by the fact that their products cater to a specific subset of developers (game developers) who might score attributes differently than others.

Google, Microsoft, and Mozilla are not only among the largest developer programs; they lead the pack in terms of developer satisfaction and engagement. Other major developer companies like Amazon, Facebook, Oracle, and Apple follow at some distance.

This doesn’t imply, however, that only the companies with the most traction and the biggest budgets can create excellent developer support programs. The living proof of that are Unity and Tencent. As we said, Unity has the highest developer satisfaction of all programs in our list. Tencent, the producer of WeChat who mostly addresses a geographical developer segment in China, has a developer satisfaction on par with Facebook and well beyond Twitter’s, and one of the highest levels of engagement in our survey. Other companies like Intel and Cisco may have moderate overall performances, but lead the way in important attributes such as training, technical support, or access to devices.

The study above shows data from the 12th edition SlashData Developer Economics survey. Over 21,200 respondents were asked which developer programs they used and how satisfied they are with them. These respondents came from 162 countries around the world and span mobile, desktop, IoT, cloud, AR/VR and machine learning developers and data scientists. The results were collected by SlashData over a period of six weeks between November and December 2016.

To access the full study drop us a note at sales@slashdata.co or download the brochure

A proven model for targeting IoT developers

Not all developers are the same, and their needs vary wildly, so any attempt to effectively address them all with a single messaging and outreach strategy is doomed to fail. At the same time it would be impractical to have one strategy per developer, so a more intelligent approach is needed.

What if you could identify a handful of developer personas, or segments, each with a very distinct set of needs and interests? What if on top of that set of developer personas you also had some guidance as to how to address each one of them, what to include in your outreach campaigns targeted at them in order to make them more effective?

Our new IoT Segmentation report provides exactly that. Building on our proven segmentation model it sheds light to the IoT developer personas, their needs, and the message most suited for them. As such, it presents you with a valuable developer marketing tool of proven effectiveness. Taking a deep-dive into the segmentation model the report is an indispensable tool for those who wish to:

  • Optimize the value proposition of their developer product
  • Identify the type of developer they are best positioned to be targeting
  • Fine-tune their messaging and outreach strategy, so that it resonates with the developer segments of interest.

We know, from the data presented in the report , that 63% of IoT developers are fun-loving Hobbyists or Explorers, but they aren’t the only segment more interested in gaining knowledge and experience than making money, and reaching out to that audience requires a specialist approach.

To further illustrate our segmentation model we have prepared a very detailed infographic presenting the 8 different IoT segments that are formed based on the goals that determine developer choices , namely : Self-improvement, Direct Revenues and Improving an existing business.  

VisionMobile_IoT_segments_infographic

1000 skills: Amazon Alexa as a metaphor for the IoT developer community

iot segmentation
If you haven’t heard about Amazon’s voice assistant Alexa, and its incarnation as the Echo consumer device, you should definitely check it out. Alexa is a centerpiece of Amazon’s Smart Home push, and quickly growing to become one of the most promising attempts at making a successful Smart Home hub, connecting all other devices around the house together. What’s more, Amazon has opened Alexa to developers, who can incorporate it in their own devices as well as add new functionality to the assistant, in the form of so-called Skills (services, integrations, or use cases). In the beginning of June, Amazon announced that over 1,000 Skills are now available on the Alexa platform.

But today, I want to talk not so much about Alexa’s merits as such, but use it as a metaphor for the IoT developer community. IoT developers, too, are in the process of gaining a proverbial 1,000 skills, and are growing fast to become the centerpiece of the IoT economy.

Like Alexa, the IoT developer community is seeing impressive early traction. The number of IoT developers is clocking in at over 5 million, and growing at almost a million developers per year. This said, both Alexa and the IoT community are still in the early stages, searching for their place in the world. In Alexa’s case, most recent reviews of the device still focus on: “what can I do with this thing?” Is it a speaker? Is it another Siri? The Skills store is still in its infancy, with little curation or discoverability. IoT developers, on their end, are still discovering what they can do with this flood of new IoT technology coming their way. VisionMobile’s IoT developer segmentation model groups developers in eight segments based on their key motivations to do IoT. A whopping 63% of IoT developers are either Hobbyists, developing for fun, or Explorers, learning the technology to put themselves in a good position to capture future opportunities. That percentage is much higher in IoT than in other sectors, like mobile or cloud.

By the way, Alexa has competition, too, in the form of Google Home, a device similar to Echo and powered by Google Now that the company announced in May, and Apple’s Siri, which it opened to developers at its WWDC event in June. The competition of such major platform players creates uncertainty about the future. The lack of clear leaders in the market is a key part of why developers are exploring – developers don’t want to commit to a platform just yet.

Back to Alexa, whose Skills are exploding – there is a 7x increase in Skills supply since January. IoT developers are also working hard at improving their skill set. The most important measure of success for IoT developers is how much knowledge and experience they have gained. Learning is the main goal for Explorers, representing almost a third of the developer population. But it goes far beyond that In a sense, all segments of IoT developers – not just Explorers – are still exploring opportunities and figuring out what their personal position in this space will be.

iot segmentation report

Amazon first goal is not to be a consumer electronics company. The e-commerce giant is in the habit of selling its devices at a price close to the cost of production. It gains instead from being on the first row – right in front of you – at the moment you decide you want to buy something. Likewise, most IoT developers are not in a rush to make bucketloads of money. They don’t prioritise making revenues straight away. As we said, learning is more important for a sense of success than how much money is made, how many users are reached, or how many costs are saved. On a personal level, culture and emotion play a huge role in the lives of developers; more so than business objectives.

Most IoT developers are Hobbyists and Explorers, learning is a key motivator, and business success is not (yet). If you run an IoT platform, developer tool, or API, or you’re marketing to IoT developers for any other reason, these insights might be counter-intuitive for you. If you want your product and messaging to resonate with IoT developers, it must match their current state of mind. In our new IoT Developer Segmentation report, we dive much deeper into our data from 4,400 IoT developers to provide you with an effective marketing tool that describes the causal motivators that drive developer decisions. Check it out!

91% of IoT developers use Open source

Did you know that 91% of IoT developers use open source technology in their projects? Our latest Premium report in the IoT series –Open source in the Internet of Things -not only confirms the figure but also sheds light to a number of tools and strategies that developers employ for open source, open hardware and open data.

The Open Source in IoT report provides developer program managers with objective data-backed insights on the use of open source technology by IoT developers and helps them to manage the use of open source in their projects. Some of the key questions that this report answers include:

  • How mainstream is open source in the Internet of Things? Is it just for hobbyists and idealists, or is there more to it than that?
  • Which developer demographics use open source and why?
  • How can I make sense of the hundreds of open source, open hardware, and open data licenses that are out there?
  • Should your project be open or closed? How can you use open source to achieve commercial success?

The data in this report comes from our 10th edition Developer Economics survey (Q4 2015). 3,700 Internet of Things developers answered questions about their use of and attitude towards open source technology.

To give you an idea of the findings of the IoT report we have prepared an infographic depicting some of the key findings. Have a look at some of the most interesting trends that have been extracted from the report and give a very  representative outline of the the mindset of IoT developers and their contribution to the open source community  :

91% of IoT developers use open source

Best Practices for a successful IoT Developer Program

Events and training programs are a main component in many developer programs for IoT – but just how effective are they?

This infographic sheds some light into the effectiveness of training and events, based on our Best Practices for IoT Developer Programs report.

IoT_9thEdition_Infographic

The RoI of developer events

Developers deeply value the community they belong to. With this in mind, real-life events are surely the ultimate, high-touch way to get together. Or are they? Our new report uses data from 3,150+ IoT developers to shed light on the matter.

IoT_DP_illustration

[tweetable]Developers deeply value the community they belong to[/tweetable], and use community resources including open source communities and Q&A sites (such as StackOverflow) every day to find information, stay up to date, and get professional support from their peers on the tools, platforms, and APIs they use.

This is one of the clear conclusions of VisionMobile’s new report on Best Practices for IoT Developer Programs, which explores what IoT developers value most in a developer support program. For this report we surveyed 3,150+ IoT developers from 140+ countries in our 9th edition Developer Economics survey – the largest research to date on IoT developers.

If developers value the sense of community so much, then real-life events are surely the ultimate, high-touch way to get together. In our experience events are often the focal points of developer programs – and a big budget-eater! It’s worth looking closely at which developers attend the different types of events, and which don’t.

In general, events like conferences, seminars, workshops, Meetups, and hackathons are a mid-range source of information for developers. Between 10% and 30% of developers attend them, depending on the type of event and the developer segment. Workshops and conferences are the most popular, each a source of information for 22% of developers, followed by Meetups (18%) and hackathons (16%). In other words, [tweetable]you reach only about a fifth of the developer population with events[/tweetable]. The expectations towards developer programs to organise events are even lower: only 8% of IoT developers consider events to be a key feature of the support program.

tune-events

It is a good practice to tune the events you organise or support to your specific developer audience. For example, developers working on Data Mashups value the formal knowledge transfer offered by seminars, trainings, and workshops (+10 percentage points relative to other developers), and to a lesser extent conferences (+4 pp). In contrast, device makers value the opportunity for playful exploration offered by hackathons (+5 pp).

Similarly events are, by and large, an enterprise affair. Developers working in large organisations are significantly more likely to attend events of any kind. This includes hackathons, which are often considerably less formal events than conferences or seminars.

Events have limited reach and are certainly not the activity with the highest ROI in a developer program. They should be considered carefully before including them in the program mix. This said, they can be a valuable addition when they are centered around PR and networking, i.e. community building, and optimized for the right audience.

In the full report, we look in detail at what Internet of Things developers need and expect from your program, beyond the obvious activity of organising developer events. We show how Internet of Things developers can be an important ingredient in your business model, but also how competition for their attention is fierce. We discuss the best practices in supporting your developer constituency by fiercely attacking friction points and by fostering community. We also discuss how developers prefer to get educated in your technology, what role money and commercial opportunities play, and how you can reach out to developers in an effective way. Our data from 3,150+ developers lays out a roadmap for the creation of a solid developer program, in tune with developer needs. Get it here.

Six key trends in the IoT developer economy for 2016

Every company should master developer ecosystem skills. Our new IoT Megatrends 2016 report sheds light on the state of the art in the IoT developer economy, distilling the major data points and insights from our research into six important trends in IoT.

Software is eating the world. [tweetable]Access to developers has become a competitive advantage in every industry[/tweetable]. Today a business in media, games, finance, or transportation, can only compete by using software to improve productivity and efficiency through every part of the business. Businesses in healthcare, construction and agriculture now find they need to use software developers to remain competitive.

As the Internet of Things takes hold and more and more traditional products get a software component, this trend only accelerates. Already, [tweetable]over 5 million developers are active in the Internet of Things in early 2016[/tweetable]. This year, we estimate that their number will grow by 800 thousand developers. That’s about the population of South Dakota, Macau, or Cyprus. [tweetable]By 2020, there will be close to 10 million Internet of Things developers[/tweetable].

6 key trends for 2016

In our 60+ page IoT Megatrends 2016 report, we highlight 6 key IoT developer trends for 2016.

Developers are more and more the center of commercial strategy. If you’re not into developers, you’re not doing it right. If you believe that the Internet of Things is only about making new, stand-alone devices and solutions, then think again. More and more key players in every IoT market build their strategy around developers who can extend the product beyond what it was when it left the factory. From Amazon and SmartThings in the home, Apple and Pebble on your watch, and Ford and Automatic in your car, all the way to ThingWorx and IBM in industrial settings, 3D Robotics and DJI in drones, and Oculus and Microsoft on your virtual reality headset – developers are key to success in the marketplace. And it’s clear to see why. Our report offers four ways that developers can extend a business: as innovators, customers, extenders, and distributors.The trend towards placing developers in the center of commercial strategy is in full swing. For example, Industrial IoT counts almost as high a percentage of professional developers as the mobile ecosystem does, while the smart home sector trails behind.

Battle of the Smart Home Hubs. Every major consumer technology is vying to become the hub of your home nowadays, from Amazon (Echo) and AT&T (Digital Life) to Xiaomi and Xfinity (by Comcast). It shouldn’t surprise then that with 1.4 million developers, the smart home is the most popular IoT sector. Smart home hubs compete on three axes – new touchpoints, new interaction models and developers – each of which raises important questions for the future. Touchpoints like voice control, next-generation remote controls, apps, and messaging are the core of the user experience, but most solutions don’t come from the maker of the smart home hub itself. Who will control the customer relationship in the future, harvesting user loyalty? Conversational platforms (voice, chat) in particular are coming up strong. Meanwhile, the rise of artificial intelligence fundamentally challenges the central role of developers as creators of use cases. Will developers go extinct? For now, key players still count on developers to drive value creation, also in AI-driven conversation platforms.

The 4 frontiers of wearable platforms. Innovation in wearables is in full swing. Wearables move from consumer electronics devices to being unobtrusively embedded in clothing, which make the technology more and more relevant for traditional fashion companies. Soon, brands will compete on digital identity – an opportunity to create a powerful connection with users. Smartwatches and AR/VR platforms will compete on who has most apps. In smartwatches, Android Wear is under pressure from new platform challengers. On the one hands, Chinese internet companies build their own Android derivatives for wearables. On the other, victims of the Android smartphone strategy build direct challenger platforms based on Tizen or webOS. Finally, our research shows that [tweetable]data-centric apps are more lucrative than simple smartwatch apps or new wearable devices[/tweetable], but that few developers go that way today.

From Connected Car to software-defined transportation. The innovation focus in Connected Cars is shifting from the dashboard to vehicle data, and in the future to data-driven transportation platforms. Car makers struggle to keep control over and to gain access to the necessary supply chain, expertise, and data to be leaders in this evolution. Will car makers miss automotive computing just like Microsoft missed mobile? We’ve explored this trend in depth here.

Consumer and Enterprise technology converge. Consumer and enterprise technology are increasingly converging in most industries. The smart home of today will become the smart office of tomorrow, as smart locks turn into access control and smart TVs into meeting room equipment. The equivalent of wearable-sensor-driven health apps in the enterprise are people analytics, such as the Humanyze platform. And Jeff Immelt, head of GE, famously said this about data technologies developed at Amazon, Google, or Facebook making their way into the industrial world: “If you went to bed last night as an industrial company, you’re going to wake up this morning as a software and analytics company.” Consumer, and not enterprise technology will be the foundation for the converged future. Why? Consumer markets offer much faster product evolution and validation with customers. Consumer-grade ease of installation coupled with enterprise-grade security will be the future. [tweetable]Developers from their side will be increasingly mobile between consumer and enterprise markets[/tweetable].

The hottest business models in IoT. The prevalent business models in the Internet of Things are moving from product sales to recurring revenue, and from products to services. Industrial IoT technology creates opportunities for vendors to sell access to assets like jet engines or locomotives as a service, rather than selling the machines themselves. In the home, smart appliances (e.g. washing machines) are becoming an e-commerce point of sale for consumables (e.g. washing powder). Companies like Nest, Oscar Health Insurance, or Automatic have paved the way for moving from a ‘consumer pays’ model to a ‘consumer gets paid’ model, subsidizing devices with other revenue streams like insurance or energy company rebates.

The full IoT Megatrends 2016 report can be downloaded here for free.

Developing for wearables: from shrunken smartphone to wearable-first and beyond

[The hype around wearables is giving way to new opportunities for developers. Wearables move from “smartphone copycats” to wearables-first applications, to data-driven powerhouses. In this post we present the recording of our webinar on developer trends in wearables, and we answer the most pressing questions from participants.]

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Wearables are moving from a period of hype to a period of deeper exploration.

In a previous post, we called the Internet of Things the peace dividend of the smartphone wars, and IoT developers the baby boomers of that period. In other words, smartphone innovation made hardware technology abundant. It’s no longer the bottleneck. IoT breakthroughs will happen not by making more powerful processors or larger memories, but by identifying new applications for the sensors, devices and connectivity. This certainly seems to be the case for wearables, which arguably started with the first Fitbit in 2008 and boomed after the launch of the Pebble and Android Wear in 2013 and 2014. Those were the days of the wearables hype.

That hype has now died down. Developers in particular are getting more cautious about wearables. Between Q4 2014 and Q2 2015, the percentage of IoT developers targeting wearables dropped from 28% to 21%. Developers have not turned their back on wearables entirely – many still plan to develop for wearables in the future – but the initial enthusiasm is making way for realism, and a search for truly valuable uses for these new devices.

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Towards deep exploration and mature platforms

We investigated the burgeoning space of wearable developers and platform in detail in our October 2015 report: The Wearables Landscape 2015. The report draws data from the 670+ wearable developers that participated in our 9th edition Developer Economics survey (Q2 2015). We also took a good look at the platform space for wearables, and presented a leaderboard of the 15 smartwatch platforms vying for developers’ hearts and minds.

Some of the key insights from the report include:

  • Wearables move from “smartphone copycats” to wearables-first applications, to data-driven powerhouses. Companies experiment with fashion, authentication, entertainment, and workplace applications.
  • Digital identity will be the new axis of competition for fashion brands.
  • The future winning developer platforms for wearables are emerging right now. These winners will be as dominant as Android and iOS are in mobile.
  • In smartwatch platforms, Apple Watch OS leads, while Android Wear is under pressure from new challengers.
  • Data apps are the next big untapped opportunity for wearable developers. Platforms are emerging for health and wellness apps, and for productivity-oriented people analytics. Data platforms will be at least as important in defining the wearables market as smartwatch platforms. Developers have yet to discover these lucrative data app opportunities.
  • Power shifts from West to East. Strong Chinese wearable platforms are emerging that no longer need the West for innovation, or to reach a critical mass of users. The wearable developer population of Asia is almost as big as those of North America and Europe combined.

We covered all of these insights in our webinar on the topic.

Your questions

After the webinar, we received lots of questions from participants. While we didn’t have time to cover all of them during the webinar, we don’t want to withhold you our answers.

Q: Do you foresee any technology discontinuities which will drive either customer or enterprise adoption of wearables & hence market size to the next level?

A: While there are certainly interesting technologies on the horizon (I mentioned printable electronics and energy harvesting in the webinar), we look for the key market driver elsewhere. What wearables need are killer apps – use cases that are so powerful that they become almost universally desirable. The way to find a killer app is not by doing better market research, but by exploring thousands of use cases and letting the most powerful ones emerge. That’s why app platforms (both on the device and the data level) are so important, and also why it’s so important for app platforms to have the most apps.

Q: Does having an app store, like the Pebble app store or the Myo market, impact the size of the developer and app ecosystem?

A: Absolutely! App stores are the glue that connects developers and users. App stores reduce the effort it takes for users to find a suitable solution for their needs, and makes it easier for developers to get discovered. But it’s more than just convenience. Having this discovery, promotion, and sales mechanism, is a key element of starting network effects, where developers and their apps attract users to the platform, and users provide an attractive addressable market for developers. Network effects are the dominant economic driver of app platform success.

Q: Do you see data being stored on the device, centralized on the mobile, or rather sent to the cloud?

A: Engineers will presumably pick the solution that makes more sense, given the ever-evolving capabilities in bandwidth, on-device storage, battery life, connectivity, and requirement to connect the watch to a phone. Different companies will have different philosophies in this regard, e.g. Apple is more device-oriented, Google more cloud-oriented.

The more interesting question is what developers will do with that data. In a device-centric model, you’re not just limited in processing power, storage, and battery life, but also to the data coming from that device itself. The more “up” you go, the more opportunities there are to connect device data with other sources (like other devices, smartphone sensors, or internet services) and with historical user data.

Q: Do you believe there is an opportunity for testing the software for wearables? Or do wearable leaders appeal more to the Shiny Object Syndrome phenomenon and focus more on initial market appeal rather than quality?

A: To answer this question, we can look back at the history of smartphone apps. Quality was indeed not the first consideration in the early stages of the app ecosystem. Still, the user rating feature of app stores ensured that reasonably successful apps had to take care of quality. Over time, as competition increased and technology matured, testing and quality became more important. Today, we track as many as 180 app testing tools on developereconomics.com, depending on which ones you count. I would expect a similar evolution in wearables.

Q: How would you calculate the value of the longer lasting customer relationship for traditional fashion brands?

A: When fashion embeds digital technology into its products, its economics change to that of a digital company, to some extent. To calculate the value of a long-lasting customer relationship, digital metrics like customer lifetime value, churn, customer acquisition cost, etc become more and more relevant for fashion businesses. These are fundamentally different metrics than the ones fashion companies use today, and it will take time to adjust the corporate culture to valuing them properly.

Q: When it comes to those health data platforms, do you by chance have any data regarding adoption of those by health players (clinics, hospitals, etc)? There are a lot of strict regulations regarding medical data…

A: We are currently collecting data about developer adoption of health data platforms in our 10th wave Developer Economics survey, so stay tuned. It’s very early to see a lot of systematic data on these emerging platforms. There is some anecdotal evidence out there, e.g. see this article on the progress of Apple ResearchKit.

Regulation might not be as big a hurdle as it seems. Some types of data and applications are not explicitly regulated (yet). There’s a spectrum between, say, simple step tracking and data generated by the CAT scanner in your hospital. Even for the more serious medical research, the work of Apple (ResearchKit), Google (which also has research partnerships) and others prove that it can be done, with a reasonable amount of time and investment.