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
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.
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
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.