Want jobs, jobs, jobs? Use apps, apps, apps

Forcing yourself to stop playing the mobile game Candy Crush Saga isn’t easy, but I know at least one person who has recently taken up the challenge. It’s a decision she made in part because the Christian season of Lent has just begun, and you’re supposed to give up things that are bad for you. Candy Crush Saga is one of those apps that seem so addictive, a real time-waster, but what the acquaintance I’m talking about may not realize is that she could be putting thousands of valuable Canadian jobs at risk.

Earlier this week the Information and Communications Technology Council (ICTC) released a report which says more than 64,000 people are somehow employed in creating mobile apps today. That number is projected to reach 110,000 by 2019. The ICTC has been tracking this sort of thing for a while, and its “Application of Everything” report says the overall growth in apps-related jobs is up by more than 25 percent since 2012.

Of course, making an app isn’t necessarily that difficult anymore -- there are many programs and templates available for people who have no idea how to write software code -- so the ICTC numbers make sense. There is a big difference, however, in launching a mobile app and launching one with the qualities that will make a business sustainable. I talk to developers every single month, and the problems they face are nearly identical the world over. They have a really hard time getting people to find their products in an app store. It’s like pulling teeth to get people to keep coming back to an app and using it. Also, much like TV and online content, very few people are willing to actually pay so much as $99 cents for a download.

This explains why the ICTC report is charting a rise in the number of people not only trying to make the next Candy Crush Saga but apps for businesses to use. Everyone from hotels to restaurants to hospitals are now rolling out apps, so a lot of the demand for jobs (and probably most of the $1.7 billion in revenue that ICTC says apps companies in Canada are generating) are coming from a need for business apps.

To make sure Canada keeps up this momentum, ICTC’s report says a critical piece will be raising awareness among businesses about why they should deploy apps.

“Industry-specific trade fairs will be beneficial where Canada’s apps enterprises come to present their offerings for respective user industries. Networking is vital to spread the word,” the report says. “To address the diverse needs of various user industries, establishing standardized information for industry-specific users about how to adopt and best utilize apps will encourage many to adopt and thus create growth opportunities for Canada’s apps enterprises.”

Really? Who wants to walk around a convention centre squinting into smartphone screens at every booth? You can’t really standardize a lot about how apps are used, because we’re all still figuring it out. ICTC’s report even shows that about half of the people involved in making apps have been at it for less than five years.

In the States, many of the research firms have been suggesting developers of consumer apps switch to focus on business users, so they can make enough money to make ends meet. In Canada’s case, I’d suggest the opposite. Apps haven’t created jobs just because the barrier to entry is low. Consumer interest and enjoyment fuelled this industry. It’s our private selves playing with games that are shaping the fundamental requirements for a good app experience. That’s what should drive the way professional apps are created too.

Here’s an idea: Every Canadian company that makes business apps should make at least one would-be competitor to Candy Crush Saga. That would teach them everything about adoption that they need to know, and might turn a Canadian job boom in apps into long-term app careers.