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Developing The Developers

Developers are the unseen engine that make digital payments and commerce possible. Why? Because behind every great app is a great developer. But because developers behind the apps are invisible, they are the easiest part of the path to mobile commerce success to overlook.

And yet the year’s newest figures from International Data Corporation about the smartphone marketplace offer a peek at why these developers matter so very much.

As of 2014, the smartphone ecosystem wars seem largely over and the two (largely expected) champions have emerged – according to IDC’s data in the Worldwide Quarterly Mobile Phone Tracker, Android and iOS were present in 96.3 percent of all smartphone handsets shipped.

“Instead of a battle for the third ecosystem after Android and iOS, 2014 instead yielded skirmishes, with Windows Phone edging out BlackBerry, Firefox, Sailfish and the rest, but without any of these platforms making the kind of gains needed to challenge the Top 2,” said IDC’s Senior Research Manager Melissa Chau.

While there are many factors that contributed to this situation – big end-user demand, refreshed product portfolios, and the availability of low-cost devices (Android more so than Apple) – an easily overlooked factor is developer dominance.

To win in mobile – one has to have the apps, and without the developers, those apps won’t exist. So how do the big players snag those developers and keep them developing? PYMNTS has your guide here to how some of the biggest names in payments are developing their developers.

Apple: The Orchestra

There are many overarching factors that keep developers in love with iOS, but it’s the core stats that are most impressive. iPhone users are on average slightly younger and more affluent than their Android using counterparts. 18-24 year olds represent 19 percent of all iPhone owners compared to 16 percent of Android owners. Moreover, 41 percent of iPhone owners earn $100,000 or more – as opposed to 24 percent of Android owners. With iPhones selling at a higher average price point than most Android phones, this difference should not be a complete surprise.

Still, it’s an important differentiator and why so many payments players are in love with Apple and now Apple Pay, too. iOS users are also, on the whole, more enthusiastic about mobile commerce. Twenty-three percent of iPhone users have made a purchase via their phone vs. 17 percent of Android owners. They are also more likely to regularly use their phone for commerce. When combined with their youth and greater affluence, these things speak strongly to why the developers of retail apps and/or those whose path to revenue is through paid apps or in-app purchases develop for Apple and iOS first.

That’s because when developers develop for Apple, they develop for a user base that, by and large, operates the latest version of the OS. Today, 91 percent of Apple users are on iOS version 7 or higher (63.8 percent) are on iOS8. Android’s fragmented nature makes that really tough for developers to get distribution – and a paycheck based on reaching zillions of people with one version of the Android app. It was reported that .1 percent of Android users had downloaded Lollipop, the latest version of the Android OS a month after launch and KitKat adoption stands are ~34 percent.

But Apple has more to offer developers lately than just that – they offer access!

Earlier this week, Apple seeded the second beta of iOS 8.3 with developers, two weeks after seeding the first iOS 8.3 beta.

The first 8.3 beta was a bit of a shock, as the iOS 8.2 with the WatchKit SDK also remains in testing. The latest beta includes Xcode 6.3 and a new version of Apple’s programming language, Swift. New features include support for wireless CarPlay connectivity, a new emoji picker and support for Google 2-step verification.

That developer release also had an especially interesting tidbit for mobile payments enthusiasts – an update to Apple Pay that now includes support for China’s UnionPay network. Does this mean that recent reports indicating that talks between the Apple and UnionPay have stalled are exaggerated? Or that this was baked into the release before things stalled and just stayed intact? Or that Cupertino is engaged in a little wishful thinking?

In the final analysis however, all told, developing for Apple’s OS is the more profitable move for developers. iOS generates 85 percent more revenue for developers than Android.

Google: The Jam Band

Google is not without its advantages in the war for developer dominance however. While Apple has richer users, Android just has more users period – 80.2 percent of smartphone market share worldwide, vs. Apple’s 14.8 percent.

What’s more, Android users tend to view a wider range of content than the iOS-using counterparts. Apple users are slightly more likely to engage in all major content categories than Android owners: 10 percent more likely to use social media daily, 7 percent more inclined toward accessing news sites, and 15 percent more likely to visit online retail sites. Android users on the other hand, have a greater number of media users in each category. Android users also tend to range more widely than iOS users and are more likely to download a larger number of apps.

However, according to a developer that PYMNTS interviewed who has designed for both, the real advantage Android offers to developers is freedom. Android is open source software and can easily be modified and customized, which tends to draw developers.

“Developing for Apple is like playing for a classical orchestra, developing for Android is like playing in a jam band. Orchestras bring in richer people, playing a jam band is a hell of a lot more fun and it’s not like people go broke designing for Android. Course, most people develop for both, and usually the iOS version first, but everyone likes building the Android version better.”

A jam band that has a lot of band members. The fragmentation of Android makes getting massive distribution of apps difficult, even if creating them is “a hell of a lot more fun.”

And that last observation may be espeically true in 2014, as the consensus among tech types seems to be that Lollipop, the newest Android OS is easier and “less of a headache” to design for than the iOS 8. According to the latest figures from Crittercism while iOS and Android run about neck and neck for system crashes across all version, the latest version of Android is more stable than the latest and greatest from Apple. Apps on Lollipop crash an average of 2.0 percent, while the iOS figure is 2.2 percent. While that difference is small, it is worth noting that for Google, that represents an improvement – the previous iteration had a crash rate approaching 2.6 percent. For Apple, on the other hand, it is a slide down – iOS 7 only had a crash rate of 1.7 percent.

And Google has been more actively courting developers since last spring with the release of a new suite of tools that include built-in translation services and staged rollouts for alpha and beta testing.

“If we look into the future a couple of years, we need to have something that’s giving developers a great foundation in terms of making great quality apps, engaging with their customers and getting deep insights into how their apps are doing…so there was a project started to build that foundation,” noted Ellie Powers, Google’s product manager for developers on Google Play.

Amazon: The Beatles (After Yoko)

While the Amazon Fire phone will likely go down in history as a cautionary tale for a wide variety of industries, one of those mentioned may be how it drove its developers away.

App developers are bailing on the Fire Phone, according to reports in Geek Wire, citing too much investment of time and money to support the phone’s unique features without the hope of a payout at the end (aka customers). The developers GW spoke to said that they are done with the Fire Phone and will not be designing for future iterations of it.

“Unfortunately we have not developed our Fire phone specific app any further since our initial focus on it for the phone’s launch,” said one developer. “The usage hasn’t been very high for us, and we’ve focused our Android efforts on other more valuable things.”

Ah yes, another testament to the complexities of Android and its fragmented ecosystem. The Fire Phone is a forked version of Android.

Another early Fire Phone app developer said: “I don’t think anyone is excited about developing for [the next Fire Phone]. It sure isn’t on our priority list right now since version one is sucking wind.”

Amazon’s response to questions by the news source yielded general affirmations that it has a very strong relationship with the developer community, while citing some specific testimonials that Amazon developers make more money on their Fire Phone apps than they do designing for Android or iOS.

Others have noted, that since Fire runs on a modified Android OS, developers are increasingly able to design for both.

However, supporting the Fire Phone by simply porting over a standard Android app and designing to the phone’s unique features (3-D viewer, etc) are not the same. The latter is a greater resource for Amazon, as it drives more users to the phone. Lack of users to the phone, means developers won’t put the time and money into developing those unique and sticky Amazon-centric apps.

And the sticky apps – the ones that get into users’ hands that they then cannot get enough of, is what every developer wants to build. But, as the developer we spoke to told us – building it is only half the battle.

“If no one sees it, it doesn’t matter. That’s why nobody designed for Blackberry.”

As for Amazon’s observation that the Fire Phone is “a multi-year, multi-decade” initiative for the company?

“Well I mean all kinds of things could happen. Meteors could hit Cupertino I guess and then they might be in the game,” he offered.

Ouch.

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