The commoditization of app developer skills

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It wasn’t so long ago, if a smart young kid asked you how to make some serious money, you could do a lot worse than telling he or she they should start developing apps.  It wasn’t hard to make the case after all, since during the great app store gold rush of 2007-8, stories abounded of young guns becoming overnight successes as their apps race up the app store rankings.

However, in case you haven’t noticed, lately those stories about app store riches are fewer and far between.

The reasons for this decline in app store fortunes? According to Marco Arment, star developer of such hits as Instapaper and Overcast, says it all starts with Apple’s app store rankings.

According to Arment:

The dominance and prominence of “top lists” stratifies the top 0.02% so far above everyone else that the entire ecosystem is encouraged to design for a theoretical top-list placement that, by definition, won’t happen to 99.98% of them. Top lists reward apps that get people to download them, regardless of quality or long-term use, so that’s what most developers optimize for. Profits at the top are so massive that the promise alone attracts vast floods of spam, sleaziness, clones, and ripoffs.

Arment goes on to talk about the commoditization of the app market and app developer skills in general. Quite simply, he says, app development is no longer the rarified skillset it was a few years ago, the result of an increasingly crowded market of developers all chasing those app store dreams.

The end result of this commoditization is that it’s harder to make a living as an app developer if you aren’t one of the lucky top .02% who manage to win the app store rankings lottery. This means that many are leaving the field or getting by with less. It also means that  apps are more likely to be abandoned by developers or be brought to market with much lower overall investment in time and resources as developers pay a lot closer attention to ROI.

All hope is not lost, however, as Arment points to some of the recent improvements by in iOS 7 and 8 which are making it much easier to add rich functionality with little added effort.

It’s a good read, so I suggest checking it out.

And on yeah, if some bright young kid asks you what he should do with his life?

You might want to tell him robots.

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