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Mobile app development faces skills crunch in 2014
Johan Pieters
Head of DVT’s Enterprise Mobile Solutions division in Cape Town

Mobile app development faces skills crunch in 2014

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

Johan Pieters

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

While smartphone platforms like iOS and Android will continue to win market share, they will also still be playing catch-up against cheaper feature phones that currently 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.

Many software developers are addressing the mass market, developing apps and services from scratch using Java and other cross-platform frameworks, and this trend will persist well into next year.

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 is the dearth of mobile development skills in the country.

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

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 – instead of increased salaries, which are already high due to the skills shortage.

We can expect this to play out in different ways next 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 is the increased popularity of Xamarin for mobile development. The cross-platform development environment allows for a high-degree of code re-use using .Net wrapped up in a thin layer of native platform-specific code.

Code re-use is one way to save money on developing multi-platform apps, and .Net skills are far more prevalent than OS-specific development skills. With Xamarin we’re seeing 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 next year.

This will have a flow-on impact on the types of apps we’ll see developed by local companies, but I don’t expect this will result in a dip in quality – if anything I believe quality will be on the up across the board next year.

One anomaly will be the decline in Blackberry as the smartphone 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.

Next year will see a significant 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 iOS or Android or one of the other smaller smartphone platforms since the Blackberry price advantage is no longer in play.