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Why London is the best place to be an app developer in 2018

New figures from Apple place London as the leading European city for app development

London skyline at sunset

The UK is the number one country for iOS app development in Europe, with London leading the way on jobs tied to the "app economy". That's according to numbers released today by Apple, which claim that the company has helped to create 1,760,000 jobs across the EU.

The iPhone maker says it has helped European developers to earn 20 billion since the launch of the App Store in 2008, with a 28% rise in app economy jobs over the last two years. The UK alone has 291,000 of these app-related jobs, with Germany and France boasting 262,000 and 220,000 respectively.

London also heads up the best cities for iOS app developers, with 138,000 app economy jobs, followed by Paris and Amsterdam.

What exactly is an "app economy" job? Apple says it has based its numbers on research by Dr Michael Mandel of the non-profit Progressive Policy Institute (PPI), which defines a worker in the app economy as someone who is either directly involved with "the ability to develop, maintain, or support mobile applications", or "indirect" and "spillover" jobs that support app developers, such as marketing or management.

It's a slightly wooly definition, and one that's based on estimation by tracking keywords in job postings and assumptions that each "core" developer job is associated with two additional "indirect" or "spillover" jobs. All the same, it paints a picture of an industry that's become nebulous in the space of a decade, as the economics of apps have matured into a broad ecosystem encompassing everything from game development to fintech. Apple's figures are taken from the PPI's latest report into the "app economy", from April 2018.

Paying for subscriptions

While specific numbers of employment related to iOS development may be difficult to pin down, Apple's figures nevertheless point to a growing area for employment with 28% more "app economy" jobs in Europe, compared to two years ago.

Bernhard Niesner, co-founder and CEO of language-learning app Busuu, suggests that the swell of app-related employment in the last couple of years is down to a maturing ecosystem, particularly in terms of subscription models.

"We run a freemium business model, where the basic version [of the app] is free and then there's a paid version, for around 9 a month. We've grown the business to over 80 million users around the world. On a daily basis we get more than 30,000 new users. That has basically only been made possible because of the ecosystem created by Apple.

"I believe people are much more comfortable these days paying for subscriptions; paying for them on their phone. Four or five years ago users were still uncertain about paying for newspapers or [education] courses on phones."

One other interesting figure from Apple is that 92% of earnings generated by European developers is generated from sales abroad. Niesner in particular points to the growth of his company's app in China. Apple has been targeting China as a growing market for its devices for several years, even to the extent of making concessions to the Chinese government over apps available to Chinese users.

With such a large proportion of business coming from abroad, the strength of app-related jobs in the UK has less to do with local buyers and more to do with the financial and community infrastructures cities like London offers. As well as "app economy" jobs, the UK also encompasses 6,459 Apple employees and 1,122 suppliers for the company. 2,500 of the former are based in London, many of which will soon be moving to the company's new campus at Battersea Power Station due to open in 2021.

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