Estimating the Number of Apple Developers Coding Native Apps

[Updated 2 Mar 2012] Estimating from the information cited below there are somewhere around 100K active developers working on Mac OS and iOS native apps world-wide.

[Update 2 Mar 2012]  Apple’s “Creating Jobs Through Innovation” report cites 248K “registered” iOS developers in the US.  On the down side, note that anyone can register for free, and this includes competitors.  (“Enrolled” developers pay $99 per year and only enrolled developers can publish on the App Store, and that number is not cited by Apple.) On the upside, this does not include Mac OS developers, and this is just the United States, so I continue to stick with the 100K number I’ve estimated above, world-wide.

[Update 4 Oct 2011] Today in Apple’s iOS 5 / iPhone 4S keynote address, Apple said over 100K developers have downloaded the iOS 5 beta.  Only those developers who are “enrolled” and have paid the enrollment fee ($99US) can download the beta (not those who’ve “registered” for free).  But this 100K number also includes non-developers — people in the tech press, competitors, and those who have not actively participated in development but just want early access to the runtimes.  So that reduces the number of actual active native app developers so somewhere between 50K and, say, 80K.

In Steve Job’s 2007 Keynote introducing the iPhone he mentions that there were then 950K “registered” ADC members.  That’s a giant number.  Is that all people who have ever registered over time? That number is not very useful.

I remember reading last year that there were an estimated 80K developers, and for the life of me I cannot find that reference again.  Being a stickler for accuracy, I felt at the time that the number was very believable.  I know I should have kept a reference to it.  Well, I vote 80K.

This year’s WWDC attendance sold out in less than a day.  That’s 5K attendees, almost all of them developers.  We also know that for the past few years about half of the attendees are attending for the first time.  That means 50% of the previous year’s attendees didn’t make it the next time.  If WWDC sold out in a day, that suggests there was a huge number of developers in that “subset of developers who could afford the time and expense to attend WWDC.”  Would you agree that WWDC attendance of 5K represents perhaps 10% of the active native developer community? If so, that sizes the developer community around 50K again.

Aaron Hillegass said in a recent 5by5 Pipeline podcast that just one of his books has sold somewhere between 10K and 100K copies.  Not all developers have his book.  Let’s just pick a number in-between and say 50K copies were sold, one per developer.

Attributes of an Apple Developer

Of course, developers fit into multiple groups.  What they all have in common here is that they write code in Objective-C and work with Cocoa and/or Cocoa Touch.

Some are fully active, part-time, on hold, or inactive (given up?).

Interestingly, there are three generations of developers active at the same time — the kids, the parents, and the grandparents.  These are terms that many will find offensive, myself included :-), but you get the idea, and it’s fascinating to think about.

These developers work in groups in large corporations, work in small decoupled collaborations remotely, are individual (solo) developers like me, and some are students in school.  (As for myself, I’m particularly interested in the size of the “individual developer” sub-community because I believe these developers are underserved in many ways.)

The number of downloads of the SDK doesn’t accurately represent the number of coders, since tech pundits download it to see what’s going on, and well as competitors, and those “considering development” like my friend Stephen who did pay $99 to learn more but never ended up doing anything.

Of the SDK downloaders there are “registered developers” who have access for free, and “enrolled developers” who must pay the fee for the ability to load apps on devices to test and to submit to the app store, and get access to pre-release (beta) versions.  Mac OS X developers do not have to be enrolled developers unless they’re submitting to the new Mac App Store.

With this kind of mix, it’s like trying to describe an amoeba that grows and shrinks, changes shape and color, with parasites attached to it, and has parts that shrivel up and fall off.  It’s difficult at best to assess the size of this community. But 50K+ sounds good.

If you know of any other estimates, please share it. Thanks!

Originally Posted: 4 September 2011.  Updated: 4 October 2011.


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