When everybody wants to be your Friend: What’s an Application Developer to do?

Only a few years ago application developers were spurned by VCs as not being able to generate the returns they seek: ‘only platforms could do that.’  Now there’s a $100M fund for just iPhone apps.  Application developers were also subject the vagaries of operators’ new product development teams, who are expert on what will not work on their networks; now most operators are building third party developer initiatives.  Developers were also collected and categorized by some of the big network equipment and handset suppliers into nothing more than a fashion accessory not a business tool; now even more suppliers are doing it.

Today there are hundreds of developer partner programs, mash-up events, developer garages, jams, code days, geek camps, pizza crust basements, and any other term that can be considered ‘geeky cool;’ though isn’t that an oxymoron?  The tide has changed for application developers, but with everybody wanting to be your friend, what is an application developer to do?

Just reviewing my inbox there are events such as: wipjam, Orange Partner developer camps and partner days, Vodafone Betavine events, at MWC there’s the GSMA Mobile Innovation @ Mobile World Congress, Mobile Application Developer Garage, and many more events; CTIA is starting its publicity on events such as the AT&T Fast-Pitch Platinum Awards; and of course there’s Facebook developer garages and Android Code Days.  Don’t forget all the mobile internet, smart phone and web development conferences/events targeting developers.  In just the past month I could spend nearly every day at some developer event; helping me understand how to create an app using yet another API and trying to sell to me the benefits of premium membership: but few actually helping me get that app into customers’ hands and making money!

The current expense and noise is counter-productive.  The telecom industry is falling into the same trap as before of all doing the same thing but differently, leaving developers tired and confused.  Apple provides a great example of keeping it simple: put it all online, have a simple process, and just let stuff happen.  If your APIs are so complex face-to-face events are required to educate potential developers, then its going to fail.  App developers care about a clear path to the customer and cash.  However, this analogy to Apple misses one critical difference, for operators its not one platform.  But developers do not need to create to all platforms, rather focus on a few that give the best ‘bang for the buck.’  Here operators can help, c.f. Telenor CPA (Content Provider Access) and their list of most popular devices.

Orange claim 120 million customers, but how many are on an addressable S60 or above device?  Say 40 million.  How many of those will care to access such services? Let’s be generous and say 10 million.  That’s less than iPhone / iPod Touch addressable market.  And let’s not forget Orange Partner lacks a simple clear path to the customer and cash.  So if the big telcos can not complete against the consumer equipment and internet brands, its time for operators to stop working alone.

Initiatives such as OneAPI (network API based on ParlayX) and BONDI (web service APIs for handsets) are useful, but that’s just the techy bit of the problem and they are critically lacking involvement from the web development community.  Just as the cable industry created project CANOE for a coordinated approach to targeted advertising, which is likely to achieve the success the mobile industry has not.  The telco industry (mobile and broadband) needs to do adopt the same principle; create an entity that is a single point for all developers and finally start to complete against the global internet and consumer electronics brands rather than fail.

3 thoughts on “When everybody wants to be your Friend: What’s an Application Developer to do?

  1. Brendan Lally

    I think you’re bang on the money.
    There always has been huge fragmentation in this market. Development x platform sucks. Most just concentrate on one (or a very small few) platforms as trying to develop (actually a lot of it is the testing) across the different variations and then across the carriers.
    (I was doing a system on Blackberry that would (later) deploy to WMobile and iPhone but much harder than it should have been)
    Those that do attempt it lose the uniqueness (and feature set) present in each phone (which is often the reason people have them and that bond ‘love my phone’ is often very strong) as they increase their software coverage (and decrease somewhat its value – at least to the user)
    iPhone (and iG coming up slowly) has woken the industry up but so far it doesn’t look like they are out of their drunken stupor just yet!
    The longer the ‘industry’ takes the more the Internet (develop for web and deploy to any device incl mobile) “way” will become more and more prevelant and the carriers/operators will lose more of their hold. Firefox, Google, Opera are slowly getting (their) hooks into those handset (features).
    The writing is on the wall.

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