How app development is evolving
|Richard Harris in Programming Wednesday, March 15, 2023|
We recently caught up with Jean-Baptiste Hironde from MWM, and chatted all about mobile app development. He explained what functionalities and technologies will be at the forefront of app development in the years ahead, how developers can capitalize on market opportunities, and tons more.
Smartphone applications are a ubiquitous part of modern life, we talk to friends, consume media and program our daily life using software available in the palm of our hands. Mobile app functionality has steadily become more advanced and developers have to continuously push the envelope to secure a meaningful segment of the market share.
There’s an average of 3,669 new apps published on the Apple App and Google Play Stores every day, which makes it increasingly more challenging for new developers to begin building a user base. This saturated market has led established development studios to prop up B2B publishing businesses that partner with smaller developer teams to market, monetize and help optimize their projects.
MWM is a Paris-based startup best known for its music creation apps, that recently started an app publishing business focused on United States markets. Its CEO and Co-Founder, Jean-Baptiste Hironde, started MWM a decade ago as a development studio out of his college dorm room, and he has since steered it to empower the app industry’s most innovative minds. We sat down with Hironde to learn more about where app development is going next, what role app publishers will play in the future, and the steps new app developers can take to thrive in this competitive market.
ADM: Let's start by summarizing your background in app development. When did you first break into the industry and how did you do it?
Hironde: As an aspiring DJ in college ten years ago, I didn’t have access to expensive music-mixing equipment so my schoolmate at the time, Nicolas Dupré, and I decided to create our own using the iPhones in our pockets. At that point, we had little experience coding iOS apps, but the mobile app economy was booming and Nicolas and I spent hours on online forums learning everything we could until we created edjing Mix.
We published the app in 2012 and it quickly garnered tens of thousands of downloads, which made it clear that we had filled a niche by solving a problem that we were experiencing. Before we graduated we formed Music World Media or MWM and dedicated our careers to making accessible and easy-to-use tools to help artists and creatives bring their visions to life.
We began monetizing edjing Mix by first enabling in-app purchases like premium effects, sample packs, and skins to change the UI of the app. Then came ads, but very lightly as we didn't want to alter the DJ experience, so they were placed on the menu or in track lists, for example. Finally, subscriptions became available in app stores and we quickly shifted to a freemium business model as it seemed more relevant for us and our users. The app’s core features remain free, but users have to subscribe to get all the premium features, content, lessons, and future updates.
ADM: How has the mobile app economy changed during your career? What challenges are developers facing today that were not a concern years ago?
Hironde: One of the biggest challenges facing app developers today is the sheer number of apps available to consumers. Two million new apps were launched in 2021 alone, making it extremely difficult for new developers to stand out in such a crowded market. There’s likely an app for nearly everything you’d want to do on a smartphone at this point, so developers need to strive to refine existing products, look for emerging use cases for mobile apps, and transition utilities that were once only possible on PCs to mobile.
ADM: On the other end, what are some advantages that today’s app developers have that you didn’t have when you were first starting out?
Hironde: The resources and cutting-edge technology available to up-and-coming developers have made a quantum leap compared to when Nicolas and I first created edjing Mix. Many codebases and libraries dedicated to iOS development let developers start for free, but the biggest advantage for developers today has to be readily-accessible machine learning models. That kind of technology used to require extensive and expensive research and development but it’s readily available to be used by anyone today. That enables lean development teams to build impactful apps without major investments.
ADM: How do you stay on top of industry trends to identify market opportunities?
Hironde: One way is to diligently conduct market research by keeping a close eye on mobile industry trends, cutting-edge innovations in the wider technology industry, and new research. Big companies have the luxury of dedicating full teams to solely market research but newcomers should regularly read tech publications, subscribe to newsletters, and follow industry leaders on social media. As we have seen in the past with artificial intelligence, cutting-edge research eventually ends up shaping and powering smartphone apps. By staying ahead of the curve you can brainstorm ways to leverage emerging concepts and tech to optimize your business.
Additionally, attending industry conferences and networking with other app developers can provide valuable insights into emerging trends and help you stay up-to-date with the latest developments in the industry.
ADM: Where do you see a market opportunity for developers to capitalize on today?
Hironde: The computing power and energy efficiency of our smartphones have steadily increased through the years and they’re now capable of handling tasks that were once only possible on desktop computers. There’s a huge opportunity to build revolutionary graphic design, video editing, and web development applications specifically made for mobile platforms. This would give people the tools necessary to build a business, create content and pursue their creative passions right from the computers in their pockets instead of just using them to consume social media.
In 2019, the Pew Research Center estimated that more than 5 billion people owned a mobile device (smartphone, tablet, etc.) and that number is expected to continue growing. Mobile devices have made computing widely available to the world, and now it’s up to developers to give people the tools they need to use their smartphones like PCs.
To find market gaps and capitalize on them, developers should be asking themselves, "Is this the best solution for this problem, and how can emerging tech be implemented here?"
Going back to the AI example, if we’re already using machine learning to make sound samples out of existing songs for music producers, one of the natural next steps could be to use AI to recommend what group of samples would sound good in any given song. This could help producers save time by keeping them from manually browsing expensive sound libraries and is a niche problem that could be implemented into an existing music app.
ADM: What advice would you give to a developer who has a great idea but doesn’t have the capital to hire or contract third-party services?
Hironde: Developing any kind of software begins with outlining your idea and mocking up front-end and back-end functionality. Drawing a flowchart of how users will interact with your product and how it will provide value to the customer is an important first step to understanding what needs to be built first.
Following building a general overview of your idea, you’ll need to start piecing everything together. Begin with core functionality and construct everything around that key feature little by little. This could take months, or even years, but immersing yourself in a problem you’re passionate about addressing will give you a better understanding of the potential user base and even introduce you to future partners and colleagues who are also working toward a similar goal.
ADM: Once developers have a working product, what are some ways they can gain insights to continue to iterate on their app meaningfully?
Hironde: Once your app's core is working, test it immediately. Don’t stress about nailing down all of the details. Get friends, family, and colleagues to use the app and give you feedback. This will be invaluable in understanding what needs work and whether or not you need to re-evaluate your niche. During this stage, it’s pivotal to identify clear KPIs of the value users are gaining from the app and how they’ll go about navigating it.
Developers should keep an open mind and be willing to try new approaches that they might not have considered while they were designing their product for the first time. It’s not uncommon for users to navigate an app in a completely different way than developers imagined. That’s not a sign of failure, it’s an important step in understanding your audience!
ADM: Looking ahead, what functionalities and technologies will be at the forefront of app development years down the line?
Hironde: Artificial intelligence is going to revolutionize what smartphones are capable of. We’ve already seen viral examples of text-to-image generation with OpenAI’s DALL-E, which could completely alter stock imagery businesses, and ChatGPT, which is the most advanced AI chatbot assistant accessible to the masses. Implementing machine learning to elevate smartphone functionality will be key to unlocking what can be created on mobile devices.
Today’s developers have access to ML models that were once exclusively reserved for researchers. In a few years, It’s conceivable that mobile music-creation tools could create melodies, samples, and vocal snippets by just using text.
ADM: How do you see the role of app publishers shaping up over the next several years?
Hironde: Similarly to the gaming industry, app publishers will allow talented and lean teams of developers to focus on creating the best product possible without dedicating resources to marketing and monetization strategies. They’ll also give studios access to a sophisticated tech stack to save them time, money, and R&D, enabling them to hit the ground running on bringing their product to life. This pipeline should let developers with the most promising ideas cut through the noisy app market.
Just like how Zynga has become a household name for mobile gaming, this will be the case for other mobile app categories. Development studios will flock to publishers to gain an edge in the competitive mobile landscape and consumers will look to publishers to release consistent and quality apps.
Jean-Baptiste Hironde is the CEO and Founder of MWM, a leading publisher and developer of creative tool mobile apps in the music and visual art categories. MWM began as a passion project to make DJ equipment more accessible, which Jean-Baptiste worked on during his time studying aeronautical engineering at EPF School of Engineering in Paris. This led to the creation of Edjing, a turntable mobile app that has been downloaded more than 50 million times, and a portfolio of 40 other mobile creative tools followed, which have garnered over 500 million downloads across 182 countries.
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