All posts by Mark Dabbs

Originally from Washington State, Mark has lived in Odessa as a permanent resident for the past 8 years. Involved in online projects and publishing since 1996 starting with webmaster for Primestar Satellite TV by Continental Cablevision. Since then, he has served on the board for several non-profit organizations, co-founded CyberCraft Corp., and enjoyed three years with He found his way to Iraq in support of the US Marines from 2004-5 with Lear Siegler and EG&G heading up the corporate newsletter and promotions program. New with Opera Mobile Store, developers can expect to see useful, wide-ranging information on the new Global Mobile Internet.

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The number one goal with this blog is to help mobile app developers make money, to be profitable. There are many components to building a profitable business and continuing to increase its profitability. It is useful to underscore that 65% of developers are not breaking even with their apps; and likewise; roughly 65% of developers engage in little to no marketing, advertising or distribution efforts. Again, what applies here to mobile app developers applies broadly to most businesses.

One other point needs to be made, in line with the Pareto Principle, 80% of the work you do is responsible for only 20% of your revenues; implying that the other 20% of your work is responsible for the vast majority of your earnings. That is, it may take 2 or 3 months of full-time work to produce a mobile app, all of which earns you nothing unless you are being paid to develop it for someone else. It is EVERYTHING you do after you’ve finished the app that makes you money.

Developers… develop. Most developers don’t like spending their time on other things like marketing and distribution. Nevertheless, it is worth spending 1 or 2 hours a day (20% of your work day) engaged on building your business. You will benefit accordingly.

The number one question is whether you are going to everything by yourself or if you are going to do it with someone. This is your choice, where your other options are to bring in partners or to hire someone. If you don’t have the money to hire someone, then your best bet is to try to find a partner, an agent or gradually outsource work as you can afford it. These are all things that I’ve covered previously (see the Guide), but I do have a few things to add.

Partnerships. Subject to your local business laws, there are all kinds of ways to form partnerships with two or more people. It is not necessary for all partners to have equal shares, equal say or even have a salary. My first commercial business endeavor involved a partnership with four people where our lead programmer retained a 40% share with the other 3 of us having 20% each. Of special interest here is that we were able to pull in a senior VP from a major cable company who was only responsible for providing 2 hours of guidance per week.

The main point, it is possible for new companies to bring in high quality talent without necessarily paying anything. There is a generational divide in that many mobile app developers today are young (20 – 40) at the same time as there exists an massive and underutilized pool of very experienced retirees (45 – 70) who would be happy to contribute in building a new business. In the other direction, there are plenty of college students graduating every year unable to find regular jobs.

Functionally, it all boils down to there being a lot of people without a product to sell or who fundamentally do not want all of the responsibilities that come with having their own business. As a mobile app developer, you are able to produce products which you can use to attract the people to help you build a profitable business.

Outsourcing. There are likely to be many occasions where you need something done that you cannot or do not want to do, for whatever reason. Many of these things reside in the “only need to do it once” category – like creating a company logo or business card, writing an app description, or even getting your apps set up on different app stores. You might also be looking to localize your app or its description, getting press releases written and distributed, or getting a web site up. There are literally hundreds of different things involved in developing, improving and promoting your business. These don’t need to be expensive:

  • – You can find loads of people to help you on just about anything relevant to your mobile app with some tasks costing as little as US$5.00 – translations, business logos and cards, graphics, press releases and distribution, social media marketing, web sites and more. One benefit of this site is that you can review showcases of previous sample work.
  • – An all around place to hire and offer your own freelance work.
  • – Amazon’s “Mechanical Turk” – another freelance/crowdsourcing site with low-end costs.
  • – Microjobs strong on content development and surveys being of possible interest to mobile app developers.
  • Odesk / Upwork – Merged and now operating as Upwork; comprehensive and on the higher end of the freelance market.

When it comes to any business venture the more you have “for show” the better you will fare – true whether you are a mobile app developer, in online sales or run a brick-n-mortar establishment. Prioritize your needs based upon what is likely to provide you the quickest return on your investment. You always have the option to do it yourself, possibly learn a new skill, save money and increase your potential for making money in the process.

It was recently announced that Chinese investors have expressed an interest in Opera Software. I do not know and cannot comment on the specifics, but the news can be found on Reuters and Forbes. As it’s been a while since I’ve done a Market Insight post, this seems like a good time to take a look at how your app might fit the Mobile Market in China.


For starters, China has the largest population in the world with 1,375,150,000 people; about 90 million more than India. The urban cores of several cities have populations larger than many nations:

  • Shanghai – 24 million (more than the entirety of Australia)
  • Beijing -21 million (about the size of Romania)
  • Tianjin – 15 million (slightly smaller than the Netherlands)
  • Guangzhou – 13 million
  • Shenzen – 11 million
  • 11 more cities with a population over 5 million

China has 56 recognized ethnic groups, and nearly 300 living languages to go with them. By far, the most common language in China is Mandarin (960 million); with Wu, Yue and Min languages spoken by 60-80 million people each along with Jin, Xiang, Hakka and Gan spoken by another 20-45 million. While outside the scope of this article, the official language in Hong Kong is English.

This brings matters of app localizations to an entirely new level. Localization is critical in regards to both language and social-cultural look-n-feel. Marketing your app in English, or any other language, is not likely to win you many fans though over 100 million Chinese citizens do know English as a second language and the demand for English teachers and TOEFL tutors is very high.

Of additional demographical interest is the age and gender breakout to get a feel for the size of the market (in relative terms) by type of mobile app.

Age structure: % Male Female
0-14 years: 17.1% 124,340,516 107,287,324
15-24 years: 14.7% 105,763,058 93,903,845
25-54 years: 47.2% 327,130,324 313,029,536
55-64 years: 11.3% 77,751,100 75,737,968
65 years and over: 9.6% 62,646,075 68,102,830


In 2011, China’s GDP per Capita ran at roughly $5.6k and steadily climbed to roughly $7.6k in 2014; about 10% growth per year, but subject to fluctuations as all things are. What is important, however, is Purchasing Power Parity where $7,600 per year equates to about $13,000 in what it can actually buy. It is important to note that GDP per Capita and PPP do not necessarily reflect the actual average of household incomes (much lower), but are useful in relative terms.

China’s historically “cash is king” market is rapidly transitioning to electronic payment systems. Credit card circulation soared from roughly 25 million in 2002 to 186 million in 2009 and to over 450 million credit cards at the end of 2014.

Mobile Platforms and Proliferation

Per the World Bank, it is estimated that there are 93 mobile devices for every 100 people (up from 72 in 2011). Keep in mind that some people have multiple mobile devices and subscriptions. That equates to 1,275,000,000 mobile phones.

While over 70% of China’s mobile users have Android devices, few use Google Play, relying instead on over 200 other app stores. Thus, while the Chinese mobile app market is indeed massive, developing distribution channels is critical to achieve optimum performance.

Only two platforms are in play in China, Android (70%) and iOS (28%), with all others making up only 2%. It is important to note, however, that revenues are much greater for iOS apps than for Android.

Estimating an App’s Market Potential in China:

If you were to evaluate countries for which you would want to localize your app, China should rank pretty high on the list, especially if Mandarin is the target language. For the sake of a quick ballpark potential of app users, let’s presume we are considering a free to play game (with in-app advertising for monetization) designed to be interesting mainly to predominantly Mandarin speaking (spoken by 65+%), 15-24 year old males (106 million), factoring 90% have a mobile device, for a base population of 62 million.

Size of Prospective Market:

  • Android Market: 43.4 Million
  • iOS Market: 17.3 Million
  • Blackberry & Other: 300,000

Of course, reaching everyone in the market is another issue entirely, suffice that even selecting a fairly narrow niche the potential ROI for making your app available in Mandarin is likely greater than that of any other language. Girls are gamers, too, as are many under 15 and older than 24.

The Virtual Silk Road

China is an international player and has been in a long process of liberalizing and modernizing its market for many years. This short article could not possibly cover all of its important and very interesting impact on global trade, real or virtual. China is the largest online retail market with sales reaching over $400 billion in 2014 and estimated to reach a $1 trillion by 2019, per Forrester and TechCrunch. Factoring in purchasing power parity on a near 2 to 1 ratio, it would make sense for more developers to begin looking at China’s mobile market.

China or India? Brazil or Mexico? The United States or the European Union? How do you determine the markets you should enter? That there are many variables to consider is an epic understatement. The points addressed here can help anyone identify their best market opportunities.  This article is the first part of a white paper being prepared to support indications that only a minority of developers engage in marketing, and even fewer do market analysis.  And yet it’s not difficult, by the time we’re finished — it will be pretty easy.

Freely available data sources are referenced wherever possible. Some data will require personal research and may not be readily available. Still, there is enough information readily available online whereby anyone can get a good rough idea of where to concentrate their efforts without knowing a lot about marketing.  

1.  Country Population

Important for future perspective and helping to understand some of the broader dynamics in play. Total country population is relevant only as it is likely to influence where you start looking to market your apps. Bigger countries = bigger markets, right? Well, maybe.

Find Country Population:


2.  Average Income

It’s impossible to dismiss the importance of average income when it comes to evaluating prospective markets to target. There are several factors to consider.

The two simplest components are average income and purchasing power parity. Average income in US Dollars is typically defined by a country’s GDP divided by its population.

Purchasing power parity equates those US Dollars to what people can buy locally. A good point of reference for this is the Big Mac Index – measuring the cost of a Big Mac in different countries around the world. In Norway, a Big Mac is over $9.00, but in China might be less than $2.50. In essence, the app you are trying to sell to the North American Market for $3.00 won’t make headway in most other markets at the same price. This gets into market and price segmentation.

Some countries have a purchasing power parity significantly better than its GDP may indicate. Income influences pricing and price can dramatically influence interest in a premium app, freemium upgrades and costs of in-app currency.

There are a LOT of other factors appropriate to mention, though most of them apply to fine tuning marketing campaigns. Wealth distribution, unemployment rates, urban vs. rural population and wages, discretionary income, seasonal spending trends, etc. can all be useful points to consider.

Find GDP per capita:

Find countries by Purchasing Power Parity:


3.  Mobile User Population

Finding the approximate number of devices and mobile subscriptions by country is relatively easy. It is essential to factor in the number of people who have multiple devices and mobile subscriptions. In the United States, it might sound like everyone has a mobile device. More accurately, the average US mobile user has more than 1.5 devices – reducing the eligible market to about 238 million people. Determining unique users is more difficult and in the absence of research results may require you to make an estimation.

Find number of mobile devices by country:

Also consider:

4. Language

Many countries have more than one common language. Overall usage levels require research to determine the extent of overlap. Within our global environment, many languages carry weight far beyond national borders. Ignoring immigrant and diaspora communities dismisses some key language-specific revenue sources, frequently wealthier than their native communities.

If you develop and localize an app for a specific language, it makes sense to examine all of the countries in which the language is spoken. Additional localization components may be necessary.

Most Spoken Languages:

Languages by Country:

5.  Age and Gender Demographics

Playing a major role in breaking out likely users, age and gender both have an impact on app usage tendencies. Age (income and wealth distribution) tends to have the strongest impact on overall credit card holding rates.

We are talking in terms of averages here – broad classifications to which there will always be exceptions. The two oldest age groups (55-64 and 65+) can mostly be factored out of calculations, or given reduced weight in calculations.  Likewise, the youngest age group (0-14) will not have credits cards and only developed markets will have any appreciable number of credit card holders in the 18 – 24 age range.

Demographics by Age & Gender (and a lot more):

4. Credit Card Penetration and Alternative Payment Methods:

Outside of developed markets, credit card usage can vary widely and the same applies to the ever expanding field of alternative payment systems. If you have a paid or freemium app, or one that allows the purchase of in-app currency, you need to have payment systems that match those available to your end users – customers.

Credit cards are the standard for most developed countries, typically working in conjunction with services like Paypal. Mobile phone payments like M-PESA in Kenya are showing signs of real growth, but frequently require an in-country presence for a business to establish an account. The proportion of people within a country having access to these payment systems requires research and that data is not always readily available.

Initiatives by Visa and MasterCard can be expected to substantially increase Africa’s market share in the years ahead. Developer-level partnerships can also pave the way for more effectively accessing developing markets, too. For example, if you or a trusted partner has an account able to accept mobile phone payments within a country can make a world of difference in your marketing strategy and app’s profitability.

One source of useful credit card information can be found on the Visa site:
Credit Card Market: Economic Benefits and Industry Trends by Scott Schmith

7.  Mobile Platforms

With all of the above factored, you are getting closer in defining your app’s target market. Your next step is to determine what portion of the market is using the combination of platforms and devices compatible with your app, i.e. Android, iOS, Nokia, Java or HTML5, and the like.

Awesome Resource for PC and Mobile Statistics:

8. Interest by App Category

Enough data is available to indicate that users of specific devices have preferences for specific types of apps – education and learning vs. travel or utility vs. gaming. Just within the games category, there are all kinds of genres, from strategy to puzzle, shooters and adventure.

There’s no single source of data for this kind of information. Different networks have their own statistics and what might be said for Apple devices tends to be quite different for Android.  

These factors, 3 – 8, are primary factors in determining the overall number of people within a given market or country who might be interested in your app.  This provides you the upper ceiling  for your app.  

Concluding Notes:

No two campaigns are exactly alike.    What you are able to establish through collecting the information in this article will go a long way toward establishing your total market.   Reaching your market — well, that’s another story and will be treated in the second installment. Feel like experimenting? You can add your app to the Opera Mobile Store or begin your own advertising campaign in minutes.

Many, many more factors go into setting up a proper marketing campaign.  Some campaigns seek to saturate the market; others aim to pick up maximum customers with a very limited ad spend.  And there’s everything in between.

Of interest is your ability to better compete with the bigger players — development companies that do have a dedicated marketing team.


If you found this article useful, you might also be interested in:

Opera Mobile Store has a Do-It-Yourself Advertising Campaign Manager to help you get a boost for your last minute holiday advertising. This is good for developers who already have their apps on Opera Mobile Store.

You don’t have your app on Opera Mobile Store? Take the time now to do so. There’s still some time before the holiday to get your app registered and to start your own campaigns. Lots of people will be getting new smart phones, tables and other electronic goodies and will be looking to add apps for them during and after the holidays!

Advertising with Opera Mobile Store enables you to reach mobile users that you are not likely to reach otherwise. The vast majority of our customers use the Opera Mini browser and have Opera Mobile Store on their speed dial. Opera is attractive for customers in many countries because our browser compresses data to help save on bandwidth and data usage fees with carriers. Registration of your apps on Opera Mobile Store is also free, unlike on Google Play or the App Store.

Starting a Do-It-Yourself Campaign Manager requires an initial deposit of at least $250, that you can add directly via PayPal or your Credit Card.


It would be an understatement to say that the Nokia X series did not go as planned. Released in February 2014, the series was cancelled in July of the same year following Microsoft’s acquisition of Nokia. While total sales figures for the Nokia X series are not available, it is known that at least 16 million devices were shipped in 2014.  An estimated 10 million were sold during pre-order, theoretically including up to 4 million in China.

While the intention here is to focus on Nokia X, much of what can be said applies equally (or even more) to all Nokia/Symbian devices.  While not the largest app market, it is large – and tackled properly, even Nokia X can represent an “economy of scale.”  There are many different marketing strategies, but let us boil them down to two basic ones:

  1. Follow the crowd – compete for a small piece of a big pie.
  2. Avoid the crowd – compete for a large piece of a small pie.

The Nokia X and Symbian markets are examples of that second strategy. Many developers have dismissed the entire Nokia X and Symbian markets because they are smaller than the huge Android market. That is actually good news for mobile app developers able to see the marketplace in strategic terms and who are more opportunistic in their development efforts.

The Pros of the Nokia X and Symbian markets outweigh the Cons, quite substantially.

There are two primary downsides to the Nokia X and Symbian markets. First, it is a smaller market. Second, it is somewhat more difficult to monetize. We will come back to that second point shortly.

The following points can all be construed as favorable and beneficial for Nokia/Symbian developers:

  • Opera Mobile Store is the default app store for almost ALL Nokia devices
  • Fewer Nokia/Symbian apps to compete against compared to Android and iOS markets
  • Lower advertising costs relative to Android and iOS markets
  • Develop and Test for fewer total devices
  • About 70-75% of Android apps are compatible with Nokia X
  • Easier to develop customer loyalty if you have multiple apps
  • Potential to retain customers when they upgrade from their Nokia devices
  • Developing markets are typically growing faster than developed markets
  • No cost to register your apps on Opera Mobile Store

I don’t have present figures, but a total of about 120,000 apps were developed for Symbian – with 1.6 million apps designed for Android and another 1.5 million for iOS. Of those 120,000 Symbian apps, many are no longer in circulation and many others are not being actively updated or upgraded.

The point here is that competition in the Android and iOS markets is intense and you are competing against some of the largest developers in the industry.  That’s not your only option – and not necessarily your smartest option.

Nokia X was an effort to make an affordable full-feature smartphone for people living mainly in developing markets. That directly implies that most are not likely to have credit cards, Paypal accounts, or a lot of discretionary spending money. So, yes – it is more difficult to monetize apps with this target market.

I’ve heard it said that people in developing markets don’t buy anything… That is absolutely NOT true, as for starters they purchased a $100 smartphone. It may be more accurate to say, that at least in the past, many could not make online purchases owing to the paywall. Payments via mobile carrier have and will continue to offset this obstacle.


It is fairly consistent throughout the mobile app market that the vast majority of app revenues (aside from in-app advertising) are derived from a small minority of users. This follows the Pareto Principle quite closely wherein the “convention” is that 80% of the market sticks to free to play; but 20% are likely to buy something (that 80% of revenues come from 20% of your end-users).

The super-user segment focuses on the top 20% of that top 20% – essentially, your top 4-5% of paying end-users will likely be responsible for 65% of your in-app store/upgrade revenues. When you have a large base of end-users, you may also see that there’s a sub-1% user group responsible for nearly half of your revenues.

Free to Play and In-App Advertising

Most app developers are still generating some portion of their revenues from in-app advertising on a free to play basis. That strategy is well-suited to Nokia X/Symbian market and vastly simplifies your marketing effort.

For starters, you need only have your app on Opera Mobile Store to be accessible to the vast majority of active Nokia X/Symbian users. Registering on Opera Mobile Store is free, unlike Google Play or the App Store. The greatest results, as one might suspect is getting your app into the Top Section – easier than you may think.

Lifetime of Customer and Cost of Acquisition

It should be remembered that the Nokia X line was introduced as an entry-level device, with the long-term interest of Nokia X users upgrading to Lumia devices. For developing countries, the lifespan of a device can run from 6 to 10 years – from what we’ve observed historically. Sooner or later, mobile users will upgrade their smartphones – probably to Android or iOS. A bit of strategic planning and development can help you retain your Nokia/Symbian customers when they do go to upgrade.

A little bit of trivia may get you to thinking about the benefits of long-term planning – In the 1970’s, average wages in Singapore were around $600 per year; today – average wages run nearly $62,000 considering purchasing power parity. Median wage in the United States is about $51,000, in comparison. Perhaps the easiest way to big-time success comes from being the first to get established in a market where no one else or few are competing.

Contact our Business Developers to see how easily you can get your Nokia X and Symbian apps into the Top Apps on Opera Mobile Store.