Web guru Tim Bray bemoans the life of a mobile developer

Web guru Tim Bray bemoans the life of a mobile developer

Summary: With a long resume of web accomplishments — think co-editing the XML specification back in the days — Tim Bray now works as Developer Advocate at Google. In a recent blog post, he looks at the current state of web development, along with a long list of complaints.

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At his Ongoing blog, Tim Bray offers a long blog post titled Software in 2014. Rather than looking forward to the year ahead, the post is more of an analysis (and rant) of what web developers face in getting their products out to customers now. 

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According to Bray, some things are working well, others not so much. He says that the industry is at an "inflection point in the practice of constructing software."

The client-side mess. Things are bad. You have to build everything three times: Web, iOS, Android. We’re talent-starved, this is egregious waste, and it’s really hurting us.

Mobile sucks · I’m going to skip the differences between Android and iOS here because they’re just not that significant in engineering terms. Anyhow, here’s the suckage.

First of all, you have to do your mobile development twice.

The update cycles are slow. Days in the case of iOS, hours for Android (compared to seconds for browser-based apps). What’s worse is that you can’t even count on people accepting the mobile-app updates you send them. Got a critical data-losing account-compromising privacy-infringing bug? Sucks to be you.

The devices are memory-starved, CPU-starved, and battery-starved.

There are loads of form factors and it’s getting worse.

You don’t get a choice of languages; if you hate both Java and ObjC, get another job.

Unit testing is a bitch.

This is just a part of the analysis. Bray's complaints continue. He also questions who's making the money in mobile apps.

You can’t make money. Seriously, Apple is always talking about the billions and billions they pay out of the app store, so why is it that I don’t know anyone who’s making serious money on mobile apps?

Of course, this may be more of reflection of the respective conditions between the iOS and Android communities. As I mentioned in a post this past summer, the average price of iOS apps is higher than Android apps, and more iOS developers are making some profit than their Android counterparts. And there's a different expectation of each user base about paying for software.

I've noticed the many new developers offering Mac applications. Part of this is the continuing acceptance of the Mac with consumers and in business. At the same time, perhaps new iOS developers are trying to leverage their Xcode experience over to the Mac platform, where average software prices are much higher than iOS.

Bray also looks at the states of Javascript, HTML-5, and development of web apps. And by the way, he adds, browser APIs suck. Despite the enthusiastic expectations of "bright-eyed enthusiastic young true browser believers" that they will be able to make the web app experience equal native client software, Bray said there are serious roadblocks with IDEs, an adequate online store for marketing the apps and even the peculiarities of the UI experience.

Note that Bray sees that marketplace as "clients-in-triplicate for the long haul." That doesn't appear to leave much breathing room for any platform other than Apple iOS, flavors of Google Android and web applications. This conforms to the choices of developers I've spoken with over the past year: they all pick Android and iOS platforms. The third choice is a toss-up and something to worry about tomorrow. Or next year.

Topics: iOS, Android, Apple, Apps, Google, Software Development

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2 comments
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  • What is serious money?

    I've done a few mobile projects and they are only useful to get a "real job" as a contractor. I don't make anything from them. But they have been instrumental in getting some very serious paying contracts. So they don't directly pay, but I make more because I did them. Are they worth the 100 - 200 hours I put into them? I think so. Over the long haul. But my checks from the app stores are hardly worth cashing.
    A Gray
  • Bias, anyone?

    Tim Bray is a good guy, but he is hardly an unbiased source to be quoting for the "iOS vs. Android" information.

    And about this rant: "You can’t make money. Seriously, Apple is always talking about the billions and billions they pay out of the app store, so why is it that I don’t know anyone who’s making serious money on mobile apps?"

    He has no evidence to present about who is or is not making money on Apple Mobile Apps, only his opinion as head of developer relations for Google and Android. Those billions paid by Apple are going to someone, even if Bray cannot identify who they are. Does Google post a list of it's highest earning developers?
    geedeezy