Examining the battle for mobile enterprise app developers

Apple last week ratcheted up its pursuit of the mobile enterprise with the unveiling of a partnership with IBM that could prove forceful. IBM will sell iPhones and iPads to enterprise customers, packaging them with its own cloud-based platform for device management, security, advanced predictive analytics and mobile integration. IBM will provide on-site service, and the companies promise to offer more than 100 industry-specific enterprise apps “developed exclusively from the ground up” for iOS devices. As I noted last week, it’s a complementary alliance that should pay big dividends by marrying IBM’s enterprise-centric cloud and data business with Apple’s iconic iOS-based hardware.

Apple sharpened its focus on IT departments earlier this year with a handful of new offerings: It rolled out improvements to its iOS device enrollment and volume purchasing programs as well as the Apple ID for students’ service, and it issued updated reference guides and new documents for companies making major iOS device deployments and distributing apps to those devices. It also introduced support for “hands-free configuration” mobile device management (MDM), enabling IT personnel to configure and manage iOS devices without having to handle them physically.

Android (and everyone else) is still playing catch-up

The mobile enterprise remains as somewhat of a vacuum in the wake of BlackBerry’s disappearing act. Android has emerged as the dominant mobile operating system worldwide, of course, but it hasn’t kept pace with iOS despite the BYOD trend due largely to security concerns. Google hopes to change that, however, by integrating features from Samsung’s Knox in the Android L. As ZDNet and others reported this week, the upcoming version of Google’s OS will keep personal and corporate data and apps separate, enabling IT workers to remotely distribute and manage business apps via the managed profile.

Android L is slated for release later this year, but whether it will be ready for prime time in the enterprise is still far from certain. Knox hasn’t exactly had a huge impact on that market, after all, and Google can’t leverage some features that require deep hardware integration. It’s unclear whether Samsung is sharing parts of Knox eagerly or Google is strong-arming the Korean manufacturer as part of its recent efforts to retake control of Android. Regardless, the move may increase Android’s penetration into the enterprise in the long term, but it probably won’t give it an immediate boost. Meanwhile, Microsoft has yet to have any real impact on the mobile enterprise with Windows Phone, and BlackBerry seems destined to becoming a niche platform for a small fraction of the market – at best.

What it means for developers

Interestingly, the battle for the mobile enterprise is heating up as mobile app developers are finding it increasingly harder to make a buck. VisionMobile released a study this week that indicates 24 percent of developers who want to make money actually earn nothing at all, while 50 percent of iOS developers and 64 percent of Android developers earn less than $500 a month. It may not be surprising, then, that the average number of platforms targeted by developers has fallen from 2.9 a year ago to 2.2 in the most recent quarter. The average number of platforms targeted by non-game developers is 1.75, and 43 percent of those developers build for a single operating system.

But VisionMobile’s study also indicates that the enterprise is where the money is for developers. While the vast majority of developers surveyed build consumer apps, the 16 percent who focus on the enterprise are twice as likely to earn more than $5,000 per app monthly, and nearly three times as likely to earn more than $25,000 per app monthly. So iOS, Android and every other mobile operating system looking to tap the enterprise market must do more than just offer a world-class platform with business-grade security – they must also attract the attention of developers. And right now, creating enterprise apps for iOS looks like the best way for savvy developers to make a living.