Mobile Software Development: From Hobbyist to Agency at the 2nd AppsMarathon

This is the first article in a series of 3 on developing software for the mobile market. In the first article of this series, I will give my view on the evolution in the mobile apps space, from amateur apps to professional agencies. In the second article, I'll discuss why we don't see that much startups launching killer apps. In the third and last article I'll make 3 predictions on how the apps-on-demand business will evolve.

On Monday 26th of September, the second AppsMarathon was organized in Brussels. The event was a big success, with +220 registered, +180 present, 230 streaming hours, 478 unique viewers, 24 ppts, 12 free phones, 322 tweeple, +1400 tweets and 12 developers pitching their apps. The quality of the apps was much higher than last year, the crowd more civilized.

The audience this year was a different audience than last year. Last year's AppsMarathon sported mostly hobbyists pitching their apps. Apps made with big enthusiasm, but let's face it, most weren't more than an exercise (or a sophisticated "hello world") in mobile apps development. This year, nearly all of the apps pitched looked slick and professional, and were developed by professional agencies. The occasional product startup (IBeakon, Storees) was the exception this year, rather than the rule. When during my talk I asked the audience who of them dreamt of making their own killer app, their own hit in the app store, and building a vibrant business on top of their idea, the response was not overwhelmingly on the contrary. My impression was that most people were interested in the development part, not so much in the business part.

At this moment, the "easiest", least risky way to make money off of the boom in mobile is by making apps for others, preferably bigger brands. I saw people present apps that were commissioned by large brands like Colruyt (collect&go app), Studio 100 (Piet Piraat app) or VMMA/VTM (zesta app). That to me indicates the market is there, the penetration of smart phones is taking up, the technology is mature. I heard at least 2 presenters tell stories about growing their company from a 3-guys-in-a-kitchen-business to a 15+ company over the course of one year. The risk of these apps failing, or at least not giving the desired ROI is entirely for the brands, the apps developers just need to make sure they can deliver the app on time, within budget and with appropriate quality.

In short, AppsMarathon edition 2 clearly proved that the time of playing is over. Last year's hobbyists are now the developers that land big deals with large brands. The jump in maturity is huge. Playing in this league means having professional project and account management skills, a focused development team using best-of-breed engineering processes to ensure delivery of high quality software (the apps) on time and within budget. New players in the apps space will need to outgrow their kitchen fast, to become well oiled software delivery machines.