May 2009: Survey of iPhone Developers

There’s 45 million iPhones out there, and tens of thousands of iPhone Apps – we know this, and we know that the top-10 apps make millions of dollars each. But what about the developers, the people *MAKING* these apps – do you have any idea who they are?

There is/was no widely available info on who these people were, how they worked, etc, despite the many companies making strategic decisions on this stuff right now. The small teams, especially, are largely on their own, and even if someone did a big, expensive, report they don’t have the money to pay for it (I include myself in that group).

At the start of May, I created an online survey to find out some more info about “who” the people are that are currently developing for iPhone – from one-man-bands through teams of part-time friends to large development studios.

Scroll down for the full results, and some basic analysis…

Coming Soon: A detailed report into iPhone Development

I made this survey for myself and for others in the development community who need the data. I’ve had a lot of great suggestions and requests for follow-up analysis that I’d like to pursue. If you’re a developer and would like to take part in the report (which will go into more detail), please email me at adam.m.s.martin at gmail.com

Or … if you’re not a developer, but would like a copy of the report anyway, email me and I’ll get in touch nearer the time.

(if you have any requests for particular information/analysis to be included in the report, feel free to mail me and let me know)

Highlights of survey

Here’s some interesting bits I’ve pulled out from the main survey … scroll down to the bottom for the complete results.

Almost 100 different teams were surveyed, and in the end there were 85 complete, accurate, genuine responses.

  • The survey URL was posted directly to:
  • 1 major iphone-developer forum
  • a couple of iphone news sites
  • 1 professional game-developer forum
  • 1 hobbyist game-developer forum
  • my personal blog
  • 50 friends/ex-colleagues from the web and games industries

No attempt was made to pre-filter the respondents to artificially create a “controlled” sample (I wasn’t even sure how you’d achieve that, since no-one knows what the global makeup of iphone developers is?). I’m taking most figures as accurate to either 1 or 2 sig figs.

Who are the people making iPhone Apps?

Team Background
39 % Game development
6 % Mac development
11 % Mobile development
32 % Web development
11 % (none of the above)

From personal experience – many mobile dev firms don’t seem to be doing iPhone yet – I wasn’t expecting a big chunk of mobile developers. However, I didn’t include any phone-specific dev commmunities (apart from the iPhone ones) in my promotion of the survey URL, so this part might be skewed.

Leaving aside the mobile percentage, its very interesting to see that the iPhone is attracting approximately equal numbers of game and web developers.

Team Size
59 % 2-5 people
30 % 1 person
7 % 6-10 people
2 % 11-20 people
1 % 21-50 people
1 % > 50 people

A third of all the teams surveyed were 1-man teams, and two-thirds were 2-5 people. I expected a high ratio of 2-5 person teams, but I didn’t expect it to be quite that high.

Overall, around 10% of teams doing iPhone dev have more than 5 people in them. That’s quite astounding. There are two pressure that I suspect are keeping this down.

Firstly, this strongly suggests that iPhone development is a great deal “easier” than comparable platforms (such as console – even downloadable console such as XBLA and PSN, and handhelds such as DS and PSP), because even a fully-staffed 5 person team barely has room for one specialist in each of code, art, design, and project management.

Secondly, this suggests that developing iPhone Apps is very very hard to get large revenue for right now. 5 people is tiny compared to average dev team sizes from the games industry (even for last-generation PS2 games you’d expect most dev to be 10-20 people) – and compared to how much cash successful iPhone titles generate. With individual titles making multiple millions of dollars in profit, how come the teams aren’t larger? What about all the giant corporations who could easily put 15-person teams on iPhone immediately?

I believe the problem is that although it’s easy to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on a single iPhone app, that high expenditure has little correlation with high revenues, and the large teams tend to lose a lot of money per-project.

Moving into new areas…
COND(0 yrs phone,will dev phone)
43 % Yes
57 % No
COND(0 yrs mac,will dev mac)
12 % Yes
88 % No
COND(0 yrs games,will dev games)
63 % Yes
37 % No

Here, I took all the people who said their team had, on average, “0 years experience” with either game dev, mac dev, or phone dev … and then checked what percent of them said they were intending to do development in that area.

Look at the result for phone dev. Approximately half the people with zero phone experience are now planning to do phone development – the iPhone has actively attracted a large number of developers to doing not just iPhone but general mobile-phone development

On the other hand, Apple’s failed to spur new Mac development. Bear in mind that in order to do *any* iPhone development, you *must* purchase a Mac, and you *must* use (and learn!) the IDE and tools that are used for all Mac development. The iPhone libraries are mostly identical to the Mac OS X libraries. So … once you’ve learnt to develop on the iPhone, you now (almost) know how to develop Mac applications too. This seems like a missed opportunity, and suggests Apple should perhaps do some more incentivization of Mac development for new iPhone developers.

What to expect when making iPhone Apps

I’ve spoken to a lot of people over the past 6 months about their experiences as clients, comissioning other teams to develop iPhone apps for them. Where this has gone badly, the most common recurring complaint is that the developer “seems very slow” – and there’s been no baseline for clients to use to check their gut feeling on this.

When asked, based on my own experiences developing iPhone apps, and from conversations with other developers, I’ve suggested that a typical iPhone app should take about a month for a first complete version. Sure, you can polish after that – and, as the client, you can/will probably change the spec a little, and ask for a new version before going live. But I’ve met people who’ve been paying teams for 4-6 months (or longer) for a simple app that I reckoned I could personally have written on my own in 4-6 weeks.

But have we just been lucky with the apps we’ve worked on? Are the “averages” we’ve experienced atypical? What *is* a “reasonable” length of time (and price/cost!) for an outsourcer to spend working on your iphone app?

Devtime average
3 % 1 day
9 % < 1week
24 % 1-4 weeks
21 % 5-8 weeks
18 % 2-3 months
14 % 3-6 months
7 % > 6 months

Around half of all developers spend less than 2 months, on average, making each app. There you go – the reasonable amount of time for someone to quote you is “1 month”, “2 months”, or “3 months” … and since that’s the range across *all* apps, you should expect that to be proprtional to the complexity of your app.

And don’t miss the fact that a mere 20% of apps take more than 3 months to complete, typically. If your outsourcer is taking 4+ months, you should probably start asking some very serious questions…

Use my iphone for development/testing?
79 % Yes
21 % No

This isn’t particularly important – although it could help when budgetting how much it’s going to cost you to start in-house iPhone development. Instead, it’s something I’d been wondering about for a long while, ever since Apple’s beta release of the iPhone OS 2.x / 2.2.x broke people’s iphones. At the time, Apple said something along the lines of: “if you were installing “developer betas” on your own phone, you’re stupid – we take no responsibility”.

Fair enough, but then … one of the big attractions to iPhone development is that the cost to start developing an iPhone app is very low: if you already have a personal iPhone, and you own a Mac, then it costs you a mere $99 / year for your developer license.

Looking at this survey, it would appear that the vast majority of iPhone developers *are* using their personal phones for development and testing. Having seen other people destroy their own (only!) $600 phone in the past, I point-blank refuse to install or test beta releases unless it’s on a corporate-bought “test” phone. From the results here, it looks like you’re far from alone if you decide to risk it – and that means that you should find lots of other people offering help/advice if your phone gets into trouble from a beta OS release.

Responses to all answers

After checking with the people who took part, I decided to publish all the basic response data, so that even the people who *didn’t* take part could get some (free) info from this. Thanks go to all the people who took part!

Please share links to this page widely – the more people that can make use of this data, the better. But … this data took a lot of my unpaid time and effort to collate, and a large number of people also contributed their own time to filling out the surveys – don’t abuse it.

So … feel free to reference the contents (so long as you include attribution: Adam Martin @ http://t-machine.org – and the URL to this page), but do not simply copy/paste substantial chunks (e.g. 200 words) without checking with me first. Re-blogging this is cool, awesome; copy/pasting all the content and putting a tiny misattributed link in the corner of the page is not. If in doubt … email me (adam.m.s.martin at gmail.com)

Team Background
39 % Game development
6 % Mac development
11 % Mobile development
32 % Web development
11 % (none of the above)
Experience phones
56 % 0 years each
24 % 1-2 years each
13 % 2-5 years each
7 % 5+ years each
Experience Mac
66 % 0 years each
29 % 1-2 years each
5 % 5+ years each
Experience Games
29 % 0 years each
18 % 1-2 years each
23 % 2-5 years each
30 % 5+ years each
Team Size
29 % 1
60 % 1-5
2 % 11-20
1 % 21-50
1 % 51
7 % 6-10
Will dev for phones
57 % Yes
43 % No
WILL MAC?
28 % Yes
72 % No
WILL GAMES?
84 % Yes
16 % No
TEAM status
38 % all full-time
38 % all part-time
24 % some of each
TEAM SALARIES
11 % contract/paid by the hour
23 % salaried/employees
49 % self-employed/co-founders/profit-split
16 % voluntary/unpaid
TEAM workingloc
40 % ALL: co-located (work in same office)
11 % SOME: disparate (work in different offic
48 % SOME: remote-working (work from home)
TEAM profit sharing?
56 % All of us
24 % None of us
20 % Some of us
Country
38 % USA 2 % India 1 % Switzerland
16 % UK 2 % Australia 1 % Hungary
11 % Canada 2 % Argentina 1 % Israel
2 % Ukraine 1 % Portugal
2 % Germany 1 % Netherlands
2 % Ireland 1 % China
2 % Russia 1 % Norway
2 % Spain 1 % Bulgaria
2 % New Zealand 1 % Pakistan
2 % France 1 % Sweden
iphone developer duration
8 % 2 months
8 % 3 months
30 % 4-6 months
24 % 7-12 months
21 % < 1 month
9 % > 13 months
own engine
51 % Yes
49 % No
unity
24 % Yes
76 % No
torque
5 % Yes
95 % No
Irrlicht
1% Yes
99% No
oolong
6 % Yes
94 % No
SIO2
2 % Yes
98 % No
other engines
52 % None
28 % cocos2d
8 % dont know
4 % BANG2D
4 % OpenFrameworks
4 % PhoneGap
Languages used during iPhone development
Obj C C C++ JavaScript C# Lua Pike
78 % Yes 13 % Yes 34 % Yes 21 % Yes 9 % Yes 8 % Yes 1 % Yes
Use interfacebuilder how much?
48 % 0% (we don’t use Interface Builder)
13 % 1-10%
6 % 11-25%
9 % 26-50%
10 % 51-75%
13 % 76-100%
1 % [N/A]
Use my iphone for development/testing?
79 % Yes
21 % No
test: os 3.0beta
68 % No
32 % Yes
test: os 2.2.1
26 % No
74 % Yes
test: os < 2.2.1
72 % No
28 % Yes
test: iptouch 3.0b
83 % No
17 % Yes
test: iptouch 2.2.1
54 % No
46 % Yes
test: iptouch < 2.2.1
80 % No
20 % Yes
test: 3G
51 % No
49 % Yes
test: 2G
74 % No
26 % Yes
Apps: total
2 % [N/A]
25 % 0
28 % 1
33 % 2-5
5 % 6-10
6 % 11-20
1 % 21-30
Apps: rejected
2 % [N/A]
79 % 0
13 % 1
6 % 2-5
Apps: in top 10 free
2 % [N/A]
89 % 0
8 % 1
1 % 3
Apps: in top 50 free
2 % [N/A]
84 % 0
9 % 1
3 % 2
1 % 3
Apps: in top 100 free
2 % [N/A]
77 % 0
13 % 1
5 % 2
3 % 3
Apps: in top 10 paid
2 % [N/A]
91 % 0
5 % 1
2 % 2
Apps: in top 50 paid
2 % [N/A]
84 % 0
9 % 1
3 % 2
1 % 3
Apps: in top 100 paid
2 % [N/A]
82 % 0
9 % 1
3 % 2
2 % 3
1 % 6-10
Best revenue
3 % [N/A]
33 % < $250
5 % $251-$500
2 % $501-$1,000
7 % $1,001-$3,000
5 % $3,001-$5,000
2 % $5,001-$15,000
1 % $15,001-$50,000
2 % $50,001-$100,000
1 % $100,001-$250,000
1 % $250,001-$500,000
37 % (undisclosed)
Total revenue
3 % [N/A]
33 % < $250
6 % $251-$1,000
10 % $1,001-$5,000
3 % $5,001-$15,000
2 % $15,001-$50,000
1 % $50,001-$100,000
1 % $100,001-$250,000
1 % $500,001-$2m
38 % (undisclosed)
Devtime shortest
3 % [N/A]
11 % 1 day
15 % < 1week
26 % 1-4 weeks
17 % 5-8 weeks
13 % 2-3 months
8 % 3-6 months
6 % > 6 months
Devtime average
3 % [N/A]
3 % 1 day
9 % < 1week
24 % 1-4 weeks
18 % 2-3 months
14 % 3-6 months
21 % 5-8 weeks
7 % > 6 months
Have Publisher?
87 % No
13 % Yes
Have PR?
4 % Yes
97 % No
Have Marketing?
5 % Yes
95 % No
Have CS?
5 % Yes
95 % No
Have QA?
7 % Yes
93 % No
Predict shipped in 2010
6 % [N/A]
16 % 40m-50m
28 % 51m-75m
16 % 76m-99m
24 % 100m-125m
6 % 126m-150m
1 % 151m-200m
3 % 201m+

17 thoughts on “May 2009: Survey of iPhone Developers

  1. Pingback: May 2009: Survey results on Iphone Developers | Cavalcade of News - Cavalcade Games Blog

  2. Andrew Crystall

    I’d be surprised if a lot of the iPhone dev teams have a “designer”, per-se.

  3. Pingback: Sikhpoint Blog » Blog Archive » Apple iPhone Developers Mostly Don’t Make Much Money

  4. Steffen Itterheim

    I was wondering if the original poll is still online so we can see what the questions were – or were they as abbreviated as posted here?

    For example, i have no idea what is meant by “Have CS?” … Counter-Strike? Computer Science? CS Gas? It’s probably something i *should* know but i just can’t wrap my head around it. Please clarify this, i would appreciate it.

    I also have a hard time figuring out how “Own engine?” and “Other Engines?” go together with the engines mentioned by name. Are “other engines” and the named engines only options that those people could select which picked “No” for “Own Engine”?

  5. adam Post author

    @Steffen

    CS == Customer Support / Customer Service
    QA == Quality Assurance / Testing

    Each “engine” question was separate. So, “own engine” tells you how many people are using their own engine, whereas say SIO tells you how many people are using SIO. “other engines” is just an optional “if you’re using non-private engines that aren’t listed here, what are they? – 52% said they weren’t using any other engine.

  6. MattjDrake

    This is a fantastic survey – thanks for sharing the results. A few notes – generally I believe the results in regard to profits & size of team. However, with 38% of people not responding to that question I think you may need to take that with a grain of salt.

    The other very interesting stat was that only 5% of people responded “Yes” to “have marketing”. I assume that means the activities of promotion, advertising (not just has a marketing background or something). I guess this is not surprising considering most of the respondents were 1-5 person teams probably made up of programmers. But, I wonder if the future opportunities for dev teams will be in more effectively promoted apps.

  7. Marlene Zenker

    Thanks guys for the analysis of the survey we participated in. I am a 57 year old, female developer in Portland, OR. Probably not too many of us out there both female and not 20 or 30 something.

    The results are particularly interesting because the iPhone has brought in so many fledgling developers who have no or very little programming experience which explains the small amount of those who have marketing plans.

  8. Pingback: This Week in iPhone News - June 26/2009

  9. Benjamin Good

    Thanks for the useful work! The marketing numbers are really interesting. Would it be possible to see a comparison of the amount spent on marketing with the amount of revenue generated per app ? Does the survey provide evidence that its generally worth the time/money spent in this domain or not? I bet many developers are hoping that the appstore is all they need to ‘sell’ their app, your data could really help show whether they are right or not..

  10. Bas Meijer

    Serving burgers pays better!!!
    The teams making only $250 so far (!) should reconsider if they can bear it much longer.
    Also the large teams will learn the meaning of the numbers sooner or later. ( I am in the top 8%, but below minimum wage)

  11. Marcel Rabinovich

    Adam,
    Excellent initiative and analysis. Thank you so much for sharing the results. Our company is a mobile phone developer analyzing if some money can be made out of iphone development or it’s just worth for the knowledge of smartphones’ application business and future revenue potential – either with iPhone or competing OSes. Good point made by MattjDrake; results can be dramatically different for companies that invest in various forms of advertisement/publicity, but it does require an investment that most small developer/entrepreneurs don’t make.

  12. Pingback: 24 oranges » iPhone developer course starts in September

  13. edward

    The survey is pretty accurate. We have shipped 34 apps so far with about 100 more in development,mostly education and entertainment titles. Many of our titles make less than $50 per month. Average revenue per title is $100 per month.

    The main reason sales are so poor is the store’s poor organization. it resembles Filene’s basement after a sale – look it up if you don’t know about Filene’s famous basement – and the teenagers over at apple have yet to visit a real bookstore and see the wonderous new concept called categories. Dewey was a major asshole but the Dewey decimal system was quite logical and imagine if apple organized their store in that manner instead of the crazy system they have now.

    The sales per title will continue to drop over the next year as another 50,000 apps get loaded up. Until the store is reorganized unless you have external marketing (and only a few percent of developers do), sales will be miserable except for the 1-2% who penetrate to the “top 100″ list who by virtue of being on that list will stay on it. Kind of like the billboard top 40, maybe we will see massive shilling by companies who create 1000 fake itunes accounts to buy an app for $1 then jack up the price to get on that precious list. It happens in the music biz where artist’s promoters buy their own records in the first weeks to guarantee a top 40 listing…. so we may see this on the iphone soon enough maybe it already has happened. Good luck everybody it beats getting ripped off by the Asian pirates…. oh but actually this is starting to happen more than you think….

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