How BlackBerry and Symbian are aiming to woo developers in smartphone war

From making more money to fighting fragmentation...

From making more money to fighting fragmentation...

Developers are hot property in the smartphone space - with every mobile OS under the sun keen to follow Apple's iPhone lead and build its own loyal army of app-makers.

At the recent Mobile World Congress (MWC) trade show in Barcelona, companies with mobile operating systems to promote staged event after event aimed at attracting developers to their platform.

Among the developer-centric events at MWC were sessions run by Vodafone 360 and Motorola, while Google said 1,900 developers attended its own MWC Android Developer Lab, and RIM confirmed more than 700 developers checked out its Developer Day.

MWC fira de barcelona

This year's Mobile World Congress, held at the Fira de Barcelona
(Photo credit: Natasha Lomas/silicon.com)

BlackBerry App World - RIM's app store - launched just under a year ago and now has around 5,000 applications on its shelves, according to Alan Brenner, senior VP of the BlackBerry platform.

Asked what RIM is doing to attract developers to its platform, he told silicon.com the company is focused on tweaks that can help developers make money from their creations, ensuring apps continue to generate revenue once they're installed on consumers' phones.

"Increasingly [developers] want a variety of ways to monetise the applications," he said. "Selling the application on a transaction basis is one way but they also want to monetise post-distribution of the application."

In-app payments, for example, enable developers to gain ongoing revenue from an app by incorporating subscriptions or offering additional paid content - and RIM is planning to introduce the tech to the BlackBerry platform this spring.

While RIM is playing catch-up to Apple here - the iPhone app ecosystem already supports in-app payments - including such functionality will put it ahead of Google, whose Android platform does not currently support it.

Brenner said RIM is also set to expand the range of payment options BlackBerry App World supports - beyond currently just PayPal - to include operator billing and credit card payments as well.

Brenner said RIM will also distribute a standard API for ad insertion later this year, along with a platform for ad distribution - with both updates aimed at making life easier for developers seeking to make money from ads.

"Our developers are absolutely thrilled with this angle because they otherwise have to spend a tremendous amount of energy integrating with each [ad] network's peculiar APIs," claimed Brenner. "We've homogenised that for them and taken cost out of the effort to monetise against ads."

Another strategy for RIM to widen the appeal of the BlackBerry platform is by integrating its platform with other developer initiatives and software tools.

"[At] our developer conference in November, we announced and demonstrated a partnership with Oracle that shows out of the box integration with the Oracle Fusion Middleware and out of the box integration with Oracle JDeveloper," Brenner said. "So you can build end-to-end integrated BlackBerry apps using mainstream developer platforms and using mainstream market-leading middleware technology.

"We've also announced a. . .

...partnership with Adobe to integrate the BlackBerry platform with the Adobe Creative Suite and to integrate Flash into the BlackBerry platform."

"We haven't announced a schedule for [Flash integration] but that's something that we're very aggressively working towards," he added. "With Flash on the platform and Creative Suite integration, we expand our reach not just to developers but to content creators and the creative community, which we think is a big opportunity for BlackBerry."

Like RIM, Symbian is also working to woo developers onto its OS.

In terms of shipments, Symbian remains the number one OS in the smartphone space, owing to close historical ties with Nokia - the world's biggest mobile seller. But it has seen its market share declining as Apple, Android and RIM gnaw away at its dominance.

According to exec director of the Symbian Foundation, Lee Williams, the Foundation has its "work cut out" to entice more developers to the platform, noting that his personal goals for 2010 include "a collection of developer acquisition targets".

"We've done a decent job of keeping our [developer] base and haven't done a good job of acquiring new developers to the Symbian ecosystem," Williams told silicon.com. "So where we've fallen short and where we have the challenge and goal moving forward is the guys who jumped on and find it easy to create iPhone apps - we need more of them sitting in our developer ecosystem and they need to be happy and see their returns, and the path to channel and all of that.

"We need to be more attractive to script kiddies, content creators, media developers and this type of thing - and have an offering that appeals as much or more to them as to anybody else."

Even so, Symbian has advantages over its rivals, according to Williams.

"We do have the largest addressable market opportunity and will have for the foreseeable future if we don't screw it up. We [also] actually do provide more capability - some people, when they go in and see the API attached to Flash and what you can do with it, go 'wow, I can't do that on any other mobile platform'.

"The augmented reality guys are able to do stuff with their app right away they couldn't do on Android or Apple because of what we've exposed there."

One key developer-related issue for the Symbian OS going forward is keeping its addressable market-base unified, said Williams - an issue he believes is already damaging Android's attractiveness to developers.

"I think this is huge," he said. "When you have 25 different Android products out there, all with different UIs, different software schematics, different levels of binary compatibility, different variants running globally or not and not one of them has sold over two million units. What does a developer have as an addressable or unified target to hit?"

Williams added: "I think there's the perfect storm of fragmentation brewing with the Android ecosystem and the one question people should be asking of Google is... what are you going to do about it?"

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