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Good news, bad news for mobile app developers

Not only has mobile app developers’ chances to strike it rich dissipated, but IT pundits say a new age of citizen developers will threaten their livelihoods. “Say it ain’t so,” I said to veteran mobile application developer Jen Looper the other day. Well, she dispelled one concern and sadly confirms the other, as you’ll see in the Q&A below.

I also did a couple of podcasts with Jen Looper about other mobile app developer topics. Check out her advice on JavaScript-native development and making emulator choices. Looper is now a developer advocate for Progress. She speaks at dozens of IT conferences each year, most recently discussing beacon technology uses in IoT and mobile development.

I recall a lot of excitement about mobile application monetization back, say, 10 years ago. I don’t hear as much about that now.

Jen Looper: Yes, this is a sad story. I got into it [mobile app development] when every was  going to get rich building the next mobile game. That’s why I jumped onto Corona SDK. So, you could have a paid app that would be downloaded, and people would love it and give it great reviews. Or, you could use in-app purchases. Well, that whole business model just collapsed.

I’ve used monetization strategies like Kiip real rewards, [a game app monetization platform that links advertisers’ giveaways with users’ performance]. I want to try this again, because I keep being obliged to deploy free apps with ads. Nobody wants to see ads in apps! So, maybe real rewards would be a good thing. It’s basically giving coupons to people.

So, the independent developer is really in a crunch when it comes to mobile app monetization.

Jen Looper: It is so almost impossible to make money as an indie with some kind of monetization strategy. Nobody’s paying for anything anymore.

I think the best strategy is to think differently about the value of the mobile app. For example, move into some kind of shop where your app is paired with something physical, something tangible, something that is monetizable. There’s MeWatt, for example, which is selling the devices [for monitoring and analyzing home energy usage]. The app is free, but you can’t really use the device without the app, so the money comes from device sales.

Otherwise, only in gaming do I see monetization possibilities for the mobile app. The app always has to be part of a larger monetized strategy, unfortunately. Bummer.

I wish it was easier for the indies.

There’s a lot of talk now about citizen development and the business person replacing the app developer. Do you foresee this happening?

Jen Looper: This question comes up about every January, because everyone just freaks out. I don’t see an era, ever, where all of this stuff will be just, you know, Jetson-style, push-button app development. Of course, I’m biased, because that would totally put me out of a job. But if you ever have any fear of that, I would say hop on to the backend, because nothing in the back end will ever be automated.

I don’t worry about that. It’s like, you know, there’s so much innovation that we can do that no robot will ever be able to do for us. God forbid, you know, because that would just be totally boring.

When I think of the citizen developer, the businessperson developing apps, I think what a management nightmare that’s
going to be.

Jen Looper: Yes, security management is one of the big problems. If you’ve got robots, you know, who are creating code, I can’t imagine that they’re particularly concerned about battling clever humans who are trying to crack them. I think the humans will always be ahead of the bots, because we’re the ones developing the darn thing.

Yet, I think that the no-code, low-code solution does have a place in, like, the scaffolding, the very early stage where you just want to see what something might look like. And then, you know, you can turn over that as wireframes, [which] can be taken on by a developer and moved on from there.

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