Those little software apps on your smartphone or tablet have developed into a very big business, particularly in Massachusetts.
A new study finds that in the four years since Apple Inc.’s iPhone introduced apps to the world, app development has become a major high-tech industry, generating over half a million jobs in the United States. They include 21,400 Bay State workers who earn a total of $1 billion a year.
“What we’re looking at, at this point, is a whole wave of technology-driven economic development,” said Michael Mandel, president of South Mountain Economics LLC in Millburn, N.J. Mandel conducted the study on behalf of CTIA — The Wireless Association, a cellphone industry trade group.
Mandel said there are about 6,300 software engineers in Massachusetts writing code for apps and an equal number who directly support their activities. In addition, he calculates that app development generates an additional 8,800 spillover jobs in companies that provide goods and services to app developers.
California is by far the dominant app center. That state’s app economy employs about 152,000 people, directly and indirectly, and generates a payroll of $8.2 billion. In terms of app earnings, Massachusetts ranks fifth among US states, trailing Washington state, New York, and Texas. When measured by the number of app-related jobs, Massachusetts comes in sixth, right after Georgia, which is home to 24,000 such jobs.
While many consumer apps are developed by small start-up companies, many others are built by major corporations. Nearly half of all adults in the United States own a smartphone, and millions now expect their favorite businesses to offer compatible apps.
“Pretty much every large company that you would know about in Massachusetts has hired people with app development skills,” Mandel said.
Companies that provide apps to customers must maintain and update them, as well as the Internet server computers that connect to the apps. So a corporation that embraces apps tends to hire a lot more software and support workers.
“This is not, ‘aim once, fire, and forget,’ ” Mandel said. “You have to set up an entirely new set of people working on this.”
Fidelity Investments, the Boston-based financial services firm, has built several apps for its customers who use Apple’s iPad and iPhone as well as devices running Google Inc.’s Android software.
“We do most of it in-house,” said Sean Belka, director of the Fidelity Center for Applied Technology. “We believe that customer experience is all about being where our customers are, and clearly our customers are on mobile.”
The app boom has also benefited contractors who build apps for corporate clients. Founded in 2011, Mobiquity Inc. of Wellesley, which builds apps for Panera Bread, the New York Post, and Weight Watchers, has about 150 employees and is looking to hire at least 20 more. Chief marketing officer Lori Cohen said many Massachusetts developers have long experience in building business software.
“If you focus on the enterprise as we did, you have a pretty good talent pool here,” Cohen said. “There’s a ferocious appetite for technology talent in this state.”
Mandel said that while high-tech havens like Massachusetts are especially well-placed to benefit from the growing app economy, talented programmers located anywhere in the United States can also cash in via online app stores.
“This is kind of the next big route for economic development,” Mandel said, “a whole class of new jobs that can be located almost anywhere.”
Hiawatha Bray can be reached at email@example.com.