Photo by Tom Sawyer
Drag and drop Form builder for Android device lets users with no programming skills create apps.

App development for mobile devices is surging, like lines of surfers picking up big sets of waves.

Economists are beginning to notice "the app economy," saying that it is now responsible for 466,000 jobs in the U.S., up from zero in 2007 when the iPhone was introduced, according to a report published on Feb. 7 by TechNet. The report is based on research by Michael Mandel of South Mountain Economics LLC, a consulting firm that tracks the impact of innovation and trade.

The trend also is reflected in "help wanted" data (see chart below) published quarterly by Sydney-based, a clearinghouse for freelance assignments of all kinds. Advertisements for writing mobile-device apps for Apple's iOS platform and the Android platform are surging, with HTML5 work steadily increasing as well. Data show app development is on a similar tear for products not solely in the mobile market, such as Facebook.

Two new mobile-device app releases for construction shed light on the trend.

Mechanical Engineer, released by MultiEducator Inc., New Rochelle, N.Y., is a significant update of a one-year-old mechanical-engineering app for the iPhone and iPad. It adds hydraulic engineering, printing capability and a new user interface to a big stack of scientific calculators available in the earlier release. The other new app is a drag-and-drop app creation tool for the Android, called DroidDB. It was released by SYWARE Inc., Cambridge, Mass., on Feb. 9.

Marc Schulman, MultiEducator president, says the demand for apps is breathing new life into the code-writing industry because, "clearly, apps have solved the distribution issue in the world of software."

Schulman has developed Apple software since 1983. His company has a line of software for history studies and 35 iPhone and iPad apps for design and engineering. The apps are a reworking of previously developed desktop titles. With the advent of the iOS platform and the popularity of new mobile hardware, Schulman says, "I looked upon iOS as a great opportunity to re-leverage [earlier work]." He says code has been rewritten from scratch, but the logic and research behind the products remain the same. "I see the iOS as a tremendous opportunity for that kind of releveraging, and it applies across the board in every sort of way," he says.

One of the great pluses of developing for the iOS platform is instant worldwide distribution, Schulman says, adding, "And you are going to get paid. The negative is that you are selling your product for a lot less money and you don't have any idea of who your customers are."