Monday, September 16, 2013

Mobile development takes root; application analytics go mainstream

We’ve just finished up another survey tapping ~8,000 developers; mostly (although definitely not exclusively) of the .NET variety – and I think there’s little room for doubt; the rise of mobile and modern apps is having a profound impact on the way developers work and the tools they use.

What a difference a year makes

We did a similar survey in September 2012 (Who cares about application analytics? Lots of people for lots of reasons) and, even then, the interest in analytics was obvious – but interest had not yet translated into action. 

In Sept of 2012, we reported that 77% of development and their management had identified “insight into production application usage” as influential, important or essential to their work, and 71% identified “near real-time notification of unhandled, caught, and/or thrown exceptions” in the same way.

…BUT, at the same time, only 30% indicated that they were doing any kind of analytics in practice (exception reporting, feature tracking, etc.).
“More people believe that the world is flat than doubt the positive role of application analytics on development.”
Today, that 77% and 71% of developers who “got the value of analytics” is now a solid 100% and 99.5% respectively (for those that don’t do surveys, you have to appreciate that a 100% opinion is virtually impossible to find – you’d have a hard time getting a 100% consensus on the shape of the planet (round or flat) or even the role that aliens play in picking Super Bowl winners (are they pro AFC or pro NFC?).

Even more impressive is the rise of actual use of analytics. The 30% of development teams that claimed to use some sort of analytics has, in just one year, ballooned to 62%.

The rise of mobile development

Mobile devices have unique capabilities (accelerometer, augmented reality, gyroscope, camera/scanner, gesture recognition, GPS and navigation…) that drive unique development requirements which, in turn, spawn new development patterns and practices – and one of the most notable (in my opinion anyway) is the expectation that some form of application analytics always be included.

This is worth saying again; in traditional PC apps, adding analytics is the exception, not the rule – in mobile apps, the situation is reversed; embedding analytics is the norm.  

This is the other major shift in our year-over-year survey results. In 2012, only 25% of the development teams reported that they were developing mobile apps (iOS, Android, …) – in 2013, that number has more than doubled to 56%. Is it a coincidence that the rise of analytics use is proportionate to the rise in mobile development?

Analytics go mainstream

For analytics to “go mainstream,” mobile analytics development patterns need to be applied (and adapted) beyond narrow consumer-centric scenarios (as lucrative as those scenarios may be) to include line-of-business and “enterprise” apps (with all of the attendant infrastructure, IT governance, and data integration requirements that this implies).  …and we’re seeing evidence of this too.

94% of respondents are building mobile apps targeting consumers, BUT 40% are also deploying apps “used by employees” to “support a larger business,” e.g. enterprise apps!

65% of enterprise mobile app dev teams (essentially the same percentage as their consumer-centric counterparts) also report using (some form) of analytics.

Analytics: one size fits all?

Of course not – the specialization of application analytics technologies is another inevitable outcome of all of this change – and developers are on the front-lines trying to figure all of this out.

The following chart lists the analytics technologies our respondents have reported using – Google’s (and to a lesser degree, Flurry’s) prominence should come as no surprise. …but what’s the deal with the homegrown category?

Developers "doing it themselves" would strongly suggest that the reigning champions of consumer-centered mobile analytics are failing to meet a growing set of analytics requirements.


Is it a coincidence that the homegrown and PreEmptive analytics adoption rates map so closely to  the enterprise mobile app market share listed above? (40%)

These tools, they are a-changing

Analytics is not the only development tool category undergoing change and reinvention. When asked to enter specialized mobile development tools, responses included both “the familiar” and “the brand new.” (Note, this was not a multiple choice – this was an open text box where anything – or nothing – could be entered)

The familiar: Visual Studio was cited as a “specialized toolset” by 24.6% of those listing at least one specialized mobile app development tool – of the 49 unique tools that were cited, this was the #1 response – and should give the Visual Studio product team some satisfaction as they are clearly establishing Visual Studio as something more than just a .NET-centric dev environment.

The brand new: Xamarin, the cross platform mobile app development platform, was the most common new – and/or truly mobile-specific – toolset (they released a major refresh of their solution in 2013). Xamarin was cited by 9.5% of those listing at least one specialized mobile app development tool. 

(Are you using Xamarin? Contact me if you’d like to learn more about our soon to be released analytics integration with Xamarin – or visit the PreEmptive website if you’re reading this during or after Q4/2013)

The complete list of tools mentioned at least once include:

While Visual Studio was cited most often, relative newcomer, Xamarin, is already making its mark.

Game over? Are you kidding!? We haven’t even figured out the rules yet…

Have development organizations figured out how they’re going to tackle current and future mobile development requirements? (That, my friends, is what we call a rhetorical question)

The rise and assimilation of mobile devices is far, far from over and, sadly, I would suggest that picking new tools and expanding technical skillsets is the least of a development organizations’ worries – grappling with entirely new sets of operational, legal, social, security, and privacy obligations (that are themselves changing and often inconsistent) pose (in my view) the most serious risk (a.k.a. opportunity) for today’s development shop. 

…and those that lack a sense of urgency around these issues, that take the posture of waiting until these issues come to them, are in for a world of hurt.

For example, 

Personally Identifiable Information (PII)
  • 15% of respondents that collect personally identifiable information (PII) do not offer their users a way to opt-out 
  • 18% that collect PII do not offer a link to their privacy policy (there was only a 6% overlap between these two groups) 

To know that you’re collecting PII and to not provide these mechanisms is a serious omission (both from a development and an operations perspective) – and this is the easy stuff! This question also presumes that developers are using the most up-to-date and appropriate PII definition – a stretch to be sure.

Regulatory and Compliance

For those that indicated that their apps have “regulatory or compliance requirements” (29.9% of respondents) – their obligations are, by their very nature, more complex, ambiguous, and fluid.
  • 36.6% of respondents whose apps are subject to compliance and/or regulatory oversight do not offer their users a way to opt-out 
  • 16.7% of respondents whose apps are subject to compliance and/or regulatory oversight do not offer a link to their privacy policy.

…and what about collecting application usage information?
  • 41.7% of respondents whose apps are subject to compliance and/or regulatory oversight use Google Analytics or Flurry – analytics providers whose business model is predicated on harvesting and monetizing usage telemetry! 

Have these development organizations reconciled their regulatory obligations with Google’s and Flurry’s usage terms or privacy policies? 

In confusion, there’s opportunity

…and I think everyone can agree – mobile application development is full of opportunity.

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