Finding a market for your mobile applications

Advice for developers wanting to take their mobile applications to market.
Written by Simon Sharwood, Contributor
Developing software for mobile devices brings with it three complications conventional programmers rarely encounter.
The first is the need to work with carriers to ensure that the chosen mobile device can connect to a network.

Carriers make this relatively simple with free Web resources specifically for developers. Telstra, for example, offers a site that offers detailed technical downloads specifying how to connect different devices to its networks and take advantage of the data services they offer.

The second challenge is coming to grips with the very different mobile devices on the market, their different architectures and APIs, not to mention variable implementations of supposedly standardised technologies like Bluetooth, J2ME or Symbian.

The most sensible way to navigate this maze of hardware and operating systems is to liaise directly with the device vendors and operating system vendors, most of whom come to the party with impressive developer programs to provide all the information you’ll need to make yourself productive. Microsoft, for example, offers msdn.microsoft.com/mobility while Palm boasts www.palmone.com/us/developers/.

Most handset vendors also offer at least some free developer support. Nokia, for example, operates Forum Nokia from where it is possible to download SDKs, specifications for individual devices plus the usual white papers and tutorials. Nokia also offers a premium service called Forum Nokia Pro, which for €3000 per year offers a host of training services plus early access to discounted handsets for testing. Sony Ericsson operates similar programs , with free resources supplemented by two levels of paid support at $US500 and $US2500 respectively.

Handset manufacturers can also be a useful way for developers to overcome the third complication, that of finding a distribution mechanism for their work. This task is especially difficult for those hoping to create consumer applications, as such programs nearly always need the support of a carrier, retailer or distributor to get to market.

At the most basic level, handset makers are keen to find great content to show off their devices and create end-user demand. Sony Ericsson, for example recently offered a $US7000 prize for the best J2ME game, plus distribution from its site. Programs like Forum Nokia also maintain direct contact with carriers and may inform them about their members’ work.
Gaming pitch?
But carriers know that many developers see mobile entertainment as a quick route to a profit and are careful about the content they carry.

“I get 15-20 entertainment content providers approach me every week,” says Vodafone Australia’s Marketing Manager David Ray, a volume that has led the company to ask would-be developers to complete a web-based self-assessment questionnaire to determine whether or not an approach to the company will be fruitful. Those who believe they pass the test and submit a proposal are then assessed by a global team, which makes local subsidiaries aware of suitable opportunities.

Developers may therefore want to look at local companies like Legion Interactive which operates BlueSkyFrog, a download site for mobile entertainment programs and content. Strict quality standards are again likely to apply.

The symbiosis between handset manufacturers and carriers offers one way to explore the market for horizontal and corporate applications. The two types of business enjoy close ties as each search for content capable of spurring demand for people to buy handsets capable operating services that create traffic on carriers’ networks, which in turn creates demand for the handsets that can consume the service.

“If a developer contacts us or has a great idea, we will take it to the operator to try to get a bit of support,” explains Matt Court, a Nokia services consultant. “Other times the carriers come to us with a request for assistance,” looking for developers that can help to create an application they believe their customers will use.

Court cautions that there is little Nokia can or will do without carrier interest, making a relationship with both necessary.

At least one carrier, Three, is actively courting corporate developers. “We have a business strategy to serve individual industry channels, particularly in SMEs with mobile workforces, where people need and can make real efficiency gains out of getting access to data on the run,” says Williamson, Three’s head of developer relationships. “I get called every second day by a developer asking how to move their product into a 3G environment,” with the company’s desire to acquire business customers matched by its marketing push to demonstrate the business benefits of a 3G network’s speed.

Another area of corporate work worth considering is work from clients who see mobile applications as an extension of marketing strategies that encompass multiple media. Sydney company Amnesia Group has gone down this road working with clients such as Disney and found its content used as far afield as Japan on the iMode network. While the relationships that lead to wining such work are difficult to create and sustain – Amnesia produces everything from TV commercials to T-shirts – big brands’ ability to execute large campaigns can carry anyone’s content a long way.

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