In the world of developers, there are quite literally thousands of different ways to specialize. “App developer” is one job title that’s gaining traction, and something more and more people are beginning to pursue and seek out jobs for.

Have a knack for mobile OSes like Apple or Android, or looking for a job that’s slightly more specialized and in-demand than “software developer”? Let’s look at app developers, what they are, and how much self-identified app devs make across the spectrum.

What Is an App Developer?

Let’s get one thing straight: What exactly is an app, and what’s the difference between an “application” and a “program”?

While “app” does very commonly refer to mobile applications that you can find on the Apple App Store, Google Play Store, or elsewhere, an application can be written for any operating system – or even for a web server.

An array of mobile apps.
An array of mobile apps.

An application is designed to help users perform a single task, be it playing a game, writing a document, or editing an image. “Programs” and “software” are wider terms that can refer to any data that runs on certain hardware, and it’s not always made for the end-user. All apps are software, but not all software is an app.

For this reason, app developers (as opposed to general programmers) are focused on developing a program that helps an end-user do something.

While this is most frequently a job title for mobile developers (Android, iOS), it’s also very commonly used by desktop computer devs (Windows, macOS, Linux) and even web app developers.

App developers may also specialize in creating a certain kind of app, such as games, social media, video recording software, etc.

Some even work cross-platform, which makes them a rare commodity since they have the ability to port an application to multiple systems.

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Basic Responsibilities of App Developers

Curious about what the day-to-day tasks of app developers are? Here’s a glimpse into what you’ll be expected to do.

  • Create software applications for a certain operating system or with a certain programming language.
  • Create a clean and accessible UI for the end-users.
  • Debug and fix code.
  • Update and patch old software.
  • Work with artists, researchers, and other developers.
  • Communicate with clients and submit prototypes.
  • Write documentation that’s accessible to users.

Generally, app devs are a little more focused on the end-user than other developers, so you may be doing more frontend graphical work and UI setup alongside coding, especially if you’re on a very small team.

Types of App Developers

Even with “app developer” already being a specialized title, there are still several more types of app development jobs to choose from.

  • Software developer: These in essence are very similar to app developers; they can be considered a slightly less specialized job title. These developers tend to work more on the backend coding aspect, though there is often still some focus on the end-user.
  • Mobile app developer: This is often synonymous with “app developer”, but can provide clarification. These devs work with Android, iOS, or other mobile operating systems. You can specialize even further by OS in your job title, such as “Android developer”.
  • Desktop application developer: Like mobile devs, but they work with desktop computer OSes like Windows, Mac, Linux, and more. Also like mobile devs, you can specialize, such as “Windows developer”.
  • Web app developer: These people work on web applications delivered from a web server to a browser, such as emails, forms, and browser-based tools like word processors.
  • Hybrid app developer: This job focuses on developing cross-platform web applications that are designed to act and feel like apps. Hybrid apps are written in web languages like HTML, CSS, and Javascript.

Demand for App Developers

App development is fairly high in demand, and you can find many job listings seeking some sort of application developer.

A similar job of software development has a job outlook of 22%, which means it’s on track to grow a lot faster than other jobs in any industry. Despite more and more people piling into the tech industry, there’s plenty of demand.

The median pay for software developers is $110,000/yr according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor.
The median pay for software developers is $110,000/yr according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor.

 

As for specifically mobile developers, your prospects are very good. Demand for mobile developers is expected to increase to 24% by 2026, and thanks to the continued expansion of mobile devices’ popularity, knowing how to work with these devices will help you land a job.

Finally, mobile app developer was found to be the #1 job in America in 2017, excelling at growth, pay, and job satisfaction.

Overall, app development, especially mobile development, is a very good job to get into if you want to feel secure.

How Do You Become an App Developer?

Interested in app development in any of its forms? Here are some resources on how to get started and what you’ll need.

Job Requirements and Experience for App Developers

Take a look at the essential skills and requirements of an app developer.

  • An associate’s or bachelor’s degree in a related field may be required by some jobs, while a good portfolio and experience may be enough for others.
  • Certification as a software developer or in your primary programming language can also look good on the resume.
  • Hands-on experience or having previously developed and released apps on your target system will definitely help, especially if the apps received a fair number of downloads and attention.
  • Technical experience and familiarity with your target OS and platforms are necessary.
  • Ability to write quality code and debug.
  • Communication skills with clients and coworkers.
  • Innovation and analytical/problem-solving skills.
  • Ability to work in the front and some UI/design skills.

How to Start as an App Developer

The first step to becoming an app developer is picking what technologies you want to specialize in. Mobile app development and web app development are very different, though there can be some crossover between desktop and mobile development.

Do you want to work with phones, computers, web servers, or some combination? Do you want to specialize in a certain OS? Get familiar with the development tools and platforms available for the technology you pick.

The Android Studio homepage.
The Android Studio homepage.

There’s also the matter of which programming language to choose. Depending on how innovative you want to be, the sky is basically the limit here – but there are some common languages you may want to look into for app development, and there are plenty more options than listed here.

  • Android: Kotlin, Java, C++
  • iOS: Swift
  • Windows: C#, C++, Python, Java, Perl
  • Mac: Swift
  • Linux: Python, C++, C, Perl, Java
  • Web applications: HTML/CSS, Javascript, Java, PHP, Python, Ruby. Note that frameworks like Django, Laravel, or Ruby on Rails are often used, especially for languages like Ruby and Python that weren’t originally made for the web.

Here are some tools and official resources to help you get started. Also, consider searching for beginner guides to the language you pick.

Apple (macOS and iOS):

Windows:

Linux:

Android:

Web applications:

Average App Developer Salary

Now for the reveal: How much do app developers make in a year? And how does it compare by experience level, location, and against similar jobs?

Since “app developer” is a very wide category, we’ll also take a look at what mobile app developers and web app developers make in a year.

Here is what self-professed “application developers/app developers” make according to the top salary tracking websites.

  • Indeed: $80k/year, based on 3k salaries.
  • Glassdoor: $93k/year, with a low of $72k and a high of $120k.
  • ZipRecruiter: $94k/year, with a low of $49k and a high of $159k.
  • Payscale: $71k/year, with a low of $51k and a high of $101k.

Average all four of these records and you get a total average of $85k/year. While not as high as some esteemed careers in the tech industry, it’s a fairly decent salary among similar jobs.

App developers make $93,000/yr on average according to Glassdoor.
App developers make $93,000/yr on average according to Glassdoor.

What about specifically mobile app developers that work with tools like Android and iOS? Let’s take a look.

  • Salary.com: $98k/year, with a low of $69k and a high of $123k.
  • Glassdoor: $89k/year, with a low of $65k and a high of $122k.
  • ZipRecruiter: $102k/year, with a low of $42k and a high of $152k.
  • Payscale: $74k/year, with a low of $49k and a high of $119k.

On average this is $91k/year, which is actually a little higher than a generalized app developer.

Mobile developers make $89,000/yr on average according to Glassdoor.
Mobile developers make $89,000/yr on average according to Glassdoor.

Finally, web app development, for those that work with web servers and their technologies.

  • Salary.com: $106k/year.
  • Glassdoor: $89k/year, with a low of $64k and a high of $123k.
  • ZipRecruiter: $82k/year, with a low of $51k and a high of $111k.
  • Payscale: $66k/year, with a low of $46k and a high of $96k.

Here you also end up with $86k/year, an estimate not far off from general app developers.

Web app developers make $89,000/yr on average according to Glassdoor.
Web app developers make $89,000/yr on average according to Glassdoor.

While the three types of app developers have similar salaries, mobile app development in particular ranked out a little bit higher.

App Developer Salary by Experience Level

Experience level has one of the biggest effects on salary. It’s important to know if you’ll be making a livable wage when you’re just starting out, if it’s worth staying in the industry long enough to claim senior position benefits, or if you should specialize elsewhere.

Here’s what you can expect to make as an entry-level app developer, fresh out of college or with very little experience.

  • Salary.com: $32/hour, which comes out to approximately $67k/year.
  • Glassdoor: $95k/year, with a low of $48k and a high of $190k.
  • Indeed: $65k/year, based on 20+ salaries.
  • ZipRecruiter: $79k/year, with a low of $19k and a high of $151k.

That makes the average entry-level app developer salary $77k/year. Not bad, considering some tech jobs pay even less just by the total average.

Entry-level mobile app developers make $78,765/yr on average according to ZipRecruiter.
Entry-level mobile app developers make $78,765/yr on average according to ZipRecruiter.

 

For those who have a little experience under their belt, you’ll be looking at these salaries:

  • Indeed: $56k/year, based on 40+ salaries.
  • Glassdoor: $78k/year, with a low of $47k and a high of $129k.
  • ZipRecruiter: $69k/year, with a low of $24k and a high of $145k.
  • Payscale: $57k/year, with a low of $53k and a high of $64k.

That comes out to $65k/year, less than the entry-level position. This is likely just a reflection of Glassdoor’s very high estimate of entry-level salaries based on only a handful of reports, but it does indicate that the difference between an entry-level and junior position is likely negligible.

Junior app developers make $69,000/yr on average according to ZipRecruiter
Junior app developers make $69,000/yr on average according to ZipRecruiter

And finally, here’s what you can expect to be earning after a decade or more in the industry.

  • Indeed: $101k/year, based on 600+ salaries.
  • Glassdoor: $117k/year, with a low of $90k and a high of $153k.
  • ZipRecruiter: $112k/year, with a low of $62k and a high of $156k.
  • Payscale: $99k/year, with a low of $73k and a high of $127k.

On average that makes $107k/year, a fair bit boost from when you’re first starting out.

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Senior app developers make $112,000/yr on average, according to ZipRecruiter.
Senior app developers make $112,000/yr on average, according to ZipRecruiter.

App Developer Salary by Location

Where you live in the world has a major effect on your salary, and it can even influence where you choose to move. Here are a sample of countries and how well they pay app developers, in both local currency and USD.

Freelance App Developer Salary

Freelancing certainly isn’t for everyone, but it’s important to know what you’re walking into before you dedicate yourself to such work. How does freelancing app development compare to salaried positions?

ZipRecruiter and Glassdoor report salaries of $110k/year and $101k/year for freelance iOS developers. Freelance Android developers can expect a salary of $119k/year. Android salaries may skew a little higher, but there’s no huge disparity.

Codementor reports that freelance mobile app developers as a whole make $61-80/hour. If the average full-time freelancer works 36 hours per week, that makes a yearly salary of $114k-$168k/year.

Mobile app developers have an hourly rate that ranges from $61-80, according to Codementor.
Mobile app developers have an hourly rate that ranges from $61-80, according to Codementor.

 

This of course depends heavily on what your clients are willing to pay, how many clients you can find, and how many hours you work per week.

Remote App Developer Salary

If you plan on working as a remote developer, the salary may be a bit different. Here are some estimates for what you might be making.

Remote Android developers could make from $111k/year to $140k/year, while iOS developers are projected to make $112k/year.

A remote Android developer makes $140,000/yr on average, according to Talent.com. 
A remote Android developer makes $140,000/yr on average, according to Talent.com.

 

Remote mobile app developers, in general, make on average $73k/year. Junior developers can expect $60k/year starting out, while you can make $87k/year as a senior mobile app developer.

Finally, if you want a general look at how remote software developers fare, they’re looking at $90k/year.

App Developer Salary vs Web Developer Salary

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor’s 2020 statistics, web developers make a median pay of $77k/year. You can also see that according to various salary websites, web developers make on average 60k-75k/year.

Web developers make $77,000/yr on average according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor.
Web developers make $77,000/yr on average according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor.

 

This compares to app developers’ salary of $85k/year, $8k-$25k more than the salary of web devs. Web developers, especially frontend developers, are known to have generally lower salaries compared to software developers.

App Developer Salary vs Other Developers Salary

Web developers can be divided into three main categories: frontend developers who use HTML and CSS to design the visible parts of a webpage, backend developers who focus on using a variety of technologies for server-side work, and full-stack developers who can do both.

All fall under the “web developer” umbrella, but each makes a very different salary.

Of course, there are other types of web developers too, such as web app developers, but those three are the most common titles.

Frontend developers make on average $90k/year, backend developers $91k/year, and full-stack developers $97k/year.

With general app developers making $85k/year, you can see how important it is to specialize as higher-level job titles seem to make more money. Web development is also a very large industry as the internet is always expanding.

Should You Be an App Developer?

Is app development the right career for you? In essence, it’s very similar to the title of a software developer. So if you’re interested in that, app development could also be the right course. Plus, the two are very often interchangeable, so you can potentially apply for both positions.

If you enjoy creating applications with code, developing with the end-user in mind, and designing pleasing UI layouts, then an app developer may be a suitable position for you.

The outlook for this position as well as the tech industry as a whole is hopeful, and the salary is comparable to similar tech jobs. In fact, the pay can often be a fair bit better.

Like other tech jobs, you have a lot of flexibility in your career and access to good benefits. You can comfortably work remotely (very important in this day and age), or choose to do freelance and contract work.

App design is a good launching point for new developers, and from there you can choose to specialize or just stay in your niche.

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Summary

App developers can make a fair salary by making $85k/year – though with the potential to make far more depending on your specific job title and skillset.

As a slightly more specialized job than software development, app developers work on user-focused applications for mobile and desktop operating systems. They even sometimes join the ranks of web developers to create web applications for servers. It’s a pretty broad job title with room for many different skills.

If you’re interested in developing applications of any kind, you’re safe to try out app development as it’s a very in-demand job.

If Javascript is one technology you’re considering, check out the average Node.js developer salary too!


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