Mobile app development faces skills crunch in 2014


Jan 14th, 2014

Platform fragmentation likely to continue as iOS, Android grow market share

Locally developed smartphone applications will continue to impress with unique innovations, despite the mobile development market becoming even more fragmented in 2014.

According to Johan Pieters, business unit manager for enterprise mobile solutions at DVT, while smartphone platforms like iOS, Android and Windows Phone will continue to win market share, they will still be playing catch-up against cheaper feature phones, pre-10 Blackberries and Symbian devices that still saturate the South African market.

“There’s no escaping the fact that the majority of South Africans still use feature phones as their primary handsets, and this will continue to force a wedge between dedicated smartphone development and more basic services for feature phones,” says Pieters.

“Many developers are addressing the mass market, developing apps and services from scratch using Java and other developers are using cross-platform frameworks. I suspect that a number of players are avoiding this space completely due to the complex technical requirements. This trend will persist into this year and beyond,” he adds.

“That said I expect the level of innovation evident in locally developed smartphone apps to continue to impress – specifically in the area of accessibility and mobile security. The South African development community is nothing if not lively, and there’ll be plenty of evidence in this regard from a number of major outlets in the New Year.”

One proviso to this trend, says Pieters, is the dearth of mobile development skills in the country.

“The skills shortage has become more pronounced and will continue to worsen this year. This drives up salaries and the cost of software development, and makes resourcing for major projects more difficult, resulting in delivery delays,” he says.

“Although skills development – particularly at a junior level – is thriving, the impact won’t be felt immediately. Development companies are going to great lengths to attract new talent by offering a range of lifestyle choices – like work-from-home and specialised training – in lieu of increased salaries, which are already high due to the skills shortage.

“We can expect this to play out in different ways this year, from an increase in in-house development, to a split between in-house development on popular platforms like Android while outsourcing development on other platforms.”

A related trend that needs watching, according to Adrian Logan, Microsoft development manager at DVT, is the increased popularity of Xamarin for mobile development. The cross-platform development environment allows you to write your apps entirely in C#, sharing thesame code on iOS, Android, Windows and Mac, which results in a high-degree of code re-use.

“Code re-use is one way to save money and time on developing multi-platform apps,” he says. “With Xamarin you can get up to 70 per cent code-reuse for each project, so the local market fragmentation combined with the growing lack of skills means solutions like Xamarin will be particularly important this year.

One anomaly will be the decline in Blackberry as the platform of choice for many South Africans.

“The traditional Blackberry platform found a massive following in South Africa with its combination of smartphone-like features and feature phone-like pricing,” says Pieters, “not to mention free data.”

“This year will probably see the long awaited decline in the platform as the older Blackberry devices get replaced by the newer smartphone-focused Blackberry platform. The problem for Blackberry is that traditional users are not necessarily upgrading to the newer platform, preferring to move to Android, Windows or one of the other platforms since the Blackberry price advantage is no longer in play.”