We're currently in a golden age of mobile computing. Today's handheld devices are more powerful than most desktop computers from a decade ago. The competition between Apple's mobile devices, powered by the iOS operating system, and the multitude of devices running Google's Android operating system, has created a massive market for mobile apps. Lurking on the fringe of this marketplace is Microsoft, hoping it can finally make inroads into the mobile computing business with the release of Windows 10.
The biggest profits in the mobile application market are centered on the two traditional areas of software product demand: productivity apps, and games. Personal productivity apps connect users to their digital lives anywhere they can get a cellular or wi-fi connection. The mobile gaming market in particular has really taken off in the last ten years. As mobile devices have gained in graphics and computing power, mobile games have evolved into remarkably sophisticated software applications.
Businesses haven't been left out of the mobile computing party. Nearly every business of significant size has a mobile app that connects them to their customers, or to their own business partners. B2B and B2C mobile apps enable automated transactions, information exchange and customer relationship management. Many other business functions have been transformed by the use of mobile apps.
What do mobile app developers do?
Mobile app developers make up a sub-category of software developers who design and create applications for mobile devices like smartphones and tablet computers. As of this writing, the two most popular mobile operating system platforms developers can choose to work with are:
- Android, an open source software platform maintained and licensed by Google.
- iOS, which is entirely owned and maintained by Apple.
Android and iOS are by far the two biggest mobile operating systems worldwide. There are a few smaller fringe mobile platforms as well:
- Windows Phone, owned and maintained by Microsoft.
- Firefox OS, an open source platform licensed by Mozilla.
- BlackBerry 10, owned by BlackBerry Ltd.
- Ubuntu Touch, an open source platform based on the Ubuntu desktop operating system.
Mobile app devs are a subset of the larger software development family, and as such, share many of the challenges found in the parent industry. Mobile app developers may create "one-and-done" apps that are not expected to go beyond a single major version during their lifetime. Alternatively, mobile app developers may be responsible for creating and maintaining several apps through the entire software development life-cycle (SDLC), over several major iterations.
Mobile app developers are commonly asked to create app versions for more than one mobile operating system. For example, most governments and businesses want to offer their apps for both Android and iOS users, in order to cover the majority share of an app's potential audience. A developer who can code for both iOS and Android can often "double up" on mobile app contracts.
Work environments for mobile app developers vary by situation. Many of them work in offices as part of a larger product team, where they collaborate with other developers as well as software testers, technical writers and regulatory experts. Some mobile app developers work from home as independent contractors, where they telecommute with their clients. And, some mobile app devs are solo entrepreneurs, creating their own software products and selling them in Apple's and/or Google's app store.
What training is required for mobile app developers?
Google doesn't have an official training/certification program for Android developers, but it does offer a number of training pages on its Android Developer website. Java programming knowledge and proficiency with XML are important components of Android app development.
Apple doesn't have an iOS development track in its official training and certification program. It does have an iOS developer program that helps devs to get their completed apps reviewed and placed in the Apple app store. There are several technical education companies that offer specialized training in Android and iOS development, including printed materials, online courses, and even instructor-led classroom training.
Microsoft currently offers the Microsoft Certified Solutions Developer (MCSD) certification program, with a focus on Windows Store Apps. There are two tracks in this program to choose from:
- Developing apps using HTML5
- Developing apps using the C# programming language.
There is also an older designation, the Microsoft Certified Professional Developer (MCPD) on Windows Phone. However, this is an out-of-date, or legacy, certification, and is no longer recommended. Current MCPD holders should consider upgrading to the newer MCSD certification.
What is the job outlook for mobile app developers?
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics classifies mobile app developers under the category "Software Developers, Applications." BLS numbers place median annual salary for this category as follows:
What is the salary for mobile app developers?
The best available salary information for mobile app developers comes from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. The BLS places mobile app developers in the larger "Software Developers, Applications" designation. Here is some relevant salary information for this job category:
|Job Title||Projected Job Growth Rate|
|Software Developers, Applications-U.S.||18.8%|
|Software Developers, Systems Software-U.S.||13%|
"Occupational Employment Statistics," U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, May 2014, http://www.bls.gov/oes/