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Opps for Apps: Career Opportunities for App Developers

With each passing day, the catch phrase "there's an app for that" is becoming more of a reality. As more apps are developed, opportunities are growing in both the creative and technical sides of app development.

In simple terms, app is short for application, a downloadable software program created for mobile devices like smartphones. But the meaning can go beyond that.

"The same term can now also be used to refer to software that runs on desktop computers," says Ken Hanson. He co-founded a development company in Shreveport, Louisiana.

With demand for new apps growing every day, businesses are actively seeking ways to create useful, entertaining new apps. That means they're also looking for people who know the creative and technical sides of the process.

"There are absolutely job opportunities out there for mobile app developers, but most do require some experience," says Andrew Till, who is based in London.

"Employers are looking for candidates with skills in technical analysis, estimates and technical design of mobile apps, as well as a thorough understanding and development experience in iPhone and Android applications."

Till is senior vice president and head of smartphones and consumer electronics for a U.S.-based company with 35 global locations.

Hanson says app developers can be employed by dedicated development companies, corporations with in-house mobile platform development departments or one of many startup companies.

"Since the mobile industry is constantly changing, candidates must be at the cutting edge with their skill and be knowledgeable about the latest updates in the field," Hanson says. "Passionate candidates who are willing to work from the ground up and consistently seek new ways to learn the craft will thrive in the industry."

There are also plenty of opportunities for freelancers who may choose to work for clients who don't have the budget to hire an agency. Freelancers can also work as independent app developers.

Hanson says new tools and multi-platform frameworks are making it easier for aspiring developers and entrepreneurs to build basic apps.

"It's a great time to be a freelance designer and developer, as many people are looking for someone to build them an app," says developer Jay Pozo.

If you have an idea for an app, Pozo suggests either learning how to program in an app framework or finding another person -- like a freelancer -- who can do it for you.

"App development is very creative all around," says Pozo's colleague Deanna Kent-McDonald. She writes and narrates apps. "First you need a good idea. Then you need great art and content to be able to follow through so your user has an excellent experience."

Once you have those things, you need someone with the technical know-how to program the app. Kent-McDonald says creating an app might require a content expert, a writer and an artist, as well as the actual app developer.

"The first step is to determine what your app will do and what problem it will solve, but you also have to be prepared to make changes as you get user feedback," Till says.

He notes that apps need more than features to be engaging. "If an app doesn't provide value to its user, it likely won't be successful."

Once you know what you want your app to do, and choose which platform you want it to work with, the building process begins. Till says to expect a lot of trial and error.

Hanson says some apps can be developed in just a couple of weeks, while others may take up to six months. An important question -- especially for entrepreneurs and freelancers -- is: free or fee?

Pozo says free apps are a great way to test the market, but you run the risk of getting no return on your investment. "Paid apps are a good idea if you have real, informed confidence in what you are building and that it will sell. If your app idea is completely new and unrecognizable, you may not want to charge people up front for it."

"There are several ways to turn an app idea into cash," Till says. "It's key to remember that mobile is now expected to be a platform for innovation. For example, most developers start with offering a 'freemium' version [a free version] of the app for people to test out. Once they get a following, they issue an upgraded version with additional features and charge for downloads."

Hanson agrees about freemiums, but says finding the right price for an app -- whether it launched as a freemium or not -- is crucial. "It's important that the app is priced just right -- 99 cents can make a big difference in the app store. Users may not be willing to spend money on the app, but the upside is that there's potentially greater opportunity for monetization."

Another option, Till says, is finding a third party to sponsor your app. Whatever the app, platform or fee structure, the experts agree that the demand for mobile app developers is high, and will keep growing.

"Mobile apps are the new website -- everybody wants one," Pozo says.

"The future is in mobile," says Till. "The mobile app development space is going to continue to grow in order to meet the demand of consumers. As smartphones get more complex, apps will need updates and that will require developers.

"What we are seeing in mobile today will proliferate to all devices that have displays. It's just a matter of time. We're really seeing a trend that is here to stay and that will continue to scale for many years to come."


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