Earning a Living as an Independent Mobile Software Developer

Developing for mobile platforms such as iPhone, Android, and Blackberry, is hot right now. The choices have exploded in recent years. For micro ISV's (independent software vendors) like ours, Creative Algorithms, many positive things have been happening in the mobile space. Barriers to entry have lowered on some platforms, so getting personal with carriers is unnecessary; on-device application stores have become standard (with lower commission rates, increased customer awareness of apps, and ease of installation and purchase); upfront fees or memberships have become reasonable, and the market size for smartphones has been increasing. These improvements, however, have made it more difficult to choose which platform is the best fit, or which has the greatest potential for supporting oneself. To make the choice more difficult, the numbers keep changing. For example, the numbers have already changed since the start of research for this post--sales volumes for Android handsets have increased, 30 new Windows Mobile phones are now predicted, and 20k more apps have entered the Apple AppStore.

An important part of the decision is the numbers, but each mobile platform also has their negatives--Apple's submission practices, increasingly difficult discovery in the AppStore, and penny-candy pricing for apps. Android has few released phones with its platform, which means low volumes, plus its Market can be difficult to find on its phones. The new Palm Pre (webOS) has very low initial volume (as compared to its competitors) and has only just now opened its online store for submission of paid applications. Blackberry World must be installed on the device before use and the installation of apps isn't streamlined. Windows Mobile's look and feel is outdated, and its new new app catalog, Windows Mobile Marketplace, is not open, just currently taking submissions. Symbian is downright confusing--too many options, too many phones, and entry pricing is complicated and expensive. The Ovi store is promising, but consumer awareness for apps needs more promoting.

Each platform also has varying developing environments, but that is not the focus of this post. What business-side information can help small developers determine which path to strike? Is it possible to earn a living as a mobile software developer and on which platform is this goal easiest to achieve? This post will provide a valuable platform comparison and a foundation on which to determine the path for reaching self-employment goals as an independent mobile software developer.

Two Elements: The Idea and the Platforms

Which is trickier--coming up with a good idea or 'porting it cross-platforms? Does your company have a long list of ideas, or the skill set to develop across platforms, or both? Recently I read an article about the iPhone becoming more difficult to develop for, due to fragmentation. Besides other things (volume, the AppStore....), the iPhone has been attractive to develop for because it does not require many iterations or multiple phones.

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