ooking for a promising career in a lousy economy? A new study suggests you're apt to find it in apps — the services and tools built to run on smartphones, computer tablets and Facebook's online social network.
The demand for applications for everything ranging from games to quantum physics has created 466,000 jobs in the United States since 2007, according to an analysis released Tuesday by technology trade group TechNet.
The estimate counts 311,000 jobs at companies making the apps and 155,000 more at local merchants who have expanded their payrolls in an economic ripple effect caused by increased spending at their businesses.
The study asserts this so-called "app economy" is still in the early stages of a boom driven by the mobile computing and social networking crazes unleashed by Apple's iPhone and Facebook's online hangout.
"This is a telescope into what the future looks like," said Michael Mandel, the economist hired by TechNet to put together the report. "This is one part of the economy that is actually expanding and hiring."
Government labor statistics don't yet track jobs focused on apps. But according to TechNet, the app economy began to percolate in 2007 — the year that Apple introduced the iPhone and Facebook turned its site into a platform for other programs designed for its rapidly growing audience.
Today, there are more than 500,000 apps available for the iPhone and Apple's iPad tablet. Some are given away for free in an attempt to make money from ads. Others are sold by young and old entrepreneurs, as well as major companies.
Facebook has hatched perhaps the most successful apps company so far in Zynga, a San Francisco maker of online games such as FarmVille and Words With Friends. Zynga already employs about 2,800 people and has leased enough office space to hire thousands more during the next few years.
The TechNet study found that the highest concentrations of apps jobs are in the technology hotbeds of the San Francisco Bay area (nearly 15 percent of the positions), New York (9 percent) and Seattle (nearly 6 percent). All told, more than 60 percent, or about 290,000, of the apps jobs are located outside California, New York and Washington state, according to the study.
TechNet CEO Rey Ramsey is optimistic apps jobs will continue to be widely dispersed across the country because it's a specialty that doesn't require big factories, proximity to railroads and highways or even other tech hubs. All that is really required, he said, is a good idea and online access.