Summary of 4GWE Session: The Ecosystem of Application Developers

At the 4G Wireless Evolution conference earlier this week in LA I moderated the session “The Ecosystem of Application Developers.”  On the panel were:
Shai Berger, CEO Fonolo;
Kent Winter, SVP Sales Apex Voice
TS Ramakrishnan, CTO BubbleMotion;
Francisco Kattan, Sr. Director Developer Ecosystem Alcatel-Lucent; and
Karl Good, Technical Director Truphone.

A video of the panel session will soon be available at the 4GWE video site.  Once its available, I’d recommend that operators take a look at the session as it provides a great summary of developers’ needs and frustrations.

The panel presents a great diversity of application developers, from those going around the operator, those supplying services at the core of the network, and those supplying apps that can use the APIs being offered in the operator developer communities.  There is much scar tissue present in the panel from the trials and tribulations of working with operators.  Francisco is building ALU’s developer ecosystem to support its customers; and in the past ran Adobe’s developer ecosystem, so brings a broad based experience of the challenges faced by content owners as well as app developers.  On Francisco’s weblog is a great summary of the panel session.

I started with an opening with the question, “If you could have one wish to make working with a operator easier, what would that wish be?”  Francisco kicked off with a simple request, “Listen.”  This is very true; many operators have a rather limited view of what a ‘developer’ requires, then build something focused on their own needs.  As you would imagine, this approach results in some of the failures we’ve seen in operator developer communities.

Using the collective noun ‘Developers’ hides a diversity as great as saying ‘People.’  Operators need to consider the needs of content owners, professional stand-alone consumer-focused app developers (e.g. games), communication centric app developers (e.g. BubbleMotion), enterprise app developers, internal enterprise IT organizations, etc.  Each have different needs, an operator must take the time and listen to the developer market and understand their diverse needs.  I know only a few operators that have taken the time to listen intently to a broad spectrum of developer needs.

Shai made a statement I hear too often; “We tried working with operators, it was too hard, we gave up and now go direct.”  BTW Shai’s site, Fonolo, is one of Time Magazine’s Top 50 websitesI reviewed his service last year.  I tried (and failed) to help Shai get into operators; the general reaction from operators was ‘Cool, I love it.  But I’m not sure because….’  I was hoping for the reaction, ‘Cool, I love it.  Let’s get it in the App Store and see what customers think.’  I’m hoping the openness we’re seeing from Verizon Developer Community and China Mobile’s MMarket will be delivered in practice.

Other requirements raised during the discussion included direct access to engaged customer base, messaging and calling APIs to avoid having to put equipment in the network, and copy Apple / Android’s simple clear online process.  Marketing was a particular discussion point as apps now get lost in the 65k apps in the Apple App Store, or the 350k apps in Facebook.  TS, previously from Facebook, highlighted the importance of social discovery, that is seeing what stuff your friends are using. We’re seeing that start to appear in stores such as Nokia Ovi and Vodafone Betavine; marketing is going to be a critical aspect of the stores.  In the limit operators must decide it they are retailer, if so, then marketing of the goods in their store is going to be vital to the store’s success.

This is just the tip of a far broader and insightful conversation around developer requirements.  Keep an eye on the 4GWE video site for when the video becomes available.  I recommend that operators take a look at the session as it provides a great summary of developers’ needs and frustrations.