Mobile App Development’s Brewing Crisis

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Mobile developers aren’t just in short supply relative to the white-hot demand for building new apps; many of them also find themselves at odds with the mobile strategies set by the organizations for which they work. At the core of the growing dispute: a disconnect over who actually sets mobile agendas, as well as a spirited debate over the tools used to create apps.

A recent survey of 8,010 mobile developers and 121 IT decision-makers, conducted by International Data Corp (IDC) on behalf of Appcelerator, found that, while one third of IT decision makers (39.6 percent) said they’d either built the mobile capability for their teams or signed an enterprise license with a vendor, only 17.9 percent of developers reported actually using these tools.

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That disconnect extends throughout the technology stack. While 70.6 percent of IT decision-makers reported a positive experience with implementing HTML5, only 37.2 percent of developers agreed. A minority of developers (34.6 percent) believes that organizations’ own IT leaders set the agenda, and 15.7 percent believe that most organizations have no primary agenda-setter.

All this strife over mobile development is likely the result of an imbalance between the demand for mobile application developers and the available supply. A separate survey of 228 application development managers and directors, conducted by Opinion Matters on behalf of OutSystems, found relatively few vacancies on mobile development teams; roughly 85 percent of organizations reported a mobile-app backlog of between one to 20 applications, with 50 percent suffering a backlog of between 10 and 20 apps.

As a result, while most IT organizations are probably exercising a fair amount of prudence when it comes to mandating how those developers go about building their applications, those organizations actually have a lot of work to do in terms of regaining control over mobile-application development.

“The Achilles heel for most organizations is providing access to data and then making sure it’s secure,” says Joe Clabby, principal for Clabby Analytics. “That’s why we see so many organizations having API management at the top of their priority list.”

But while APIs abstract away a lot of development complexity, most IT organizations don’t have a lot of experience implementing or managing them, compounding the difficulties associated with building mobile applications. “Having APIs means that developers don’t have to write every little line of code,” says Judith Hurwitz, principal for Hurwitz & Associates. “The problem is that not all APIs are created equal.”

In an ideal world, an IT organization would have a mobile application development platform (MADP) that would allow it to more easily reuse code to develop multiple mobile applications that access a common set of back-end services, via a set of well-defined APIs. In practice, developers argue over not only what tools to use, but also whether that application should run native on particular mobile devices, run on the Web using HTML5, or be built using some hybrid combination of the two. On the back-end, meanwhile, all kinds of cumbersome interfaces and poorly designed APIs only serve to make the task more complex.

As that situation persists, it’s quite possible that organizations will increasingly turn to modeling tools that make use of rapid application development methodologies, allowing employees and “citizen developers” to take over the development process from professional developers altogether.

As frustration continues to mount across the enterprise, it’s clear the mobile-development issues could come to a head in 2015.

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One Response to “Mobile App Development’s Brewing Crisis”

  1. Actually the real problem with mobile is that there are just too many ways of doing things, everyday another ‘must use this’ framework appears. Not to mention that all these are based on a language (javascript) that was never fit for purpose and with every tweak it’s gets worse rather than better!

    Even if you use native then you have multiple platforms to cope with, basically one big mess with no real consistency (other than the mess!).