Tuesday, November 09, 2004

A lot of $$$ and a little bit of development

It is only a few years old thing in both Americas and Europe and a little more in Japan and Korea, but dynamics around mobile application development are changing already. By the way I put "Americas" instead of US on purpose, because we should not forget about the Canadian and the very fast growing Latin American markets.

But let's go back to our topic here... As a mobile developer, you can chose which platform you want to support, and will be selling your applications through operators or other distributors including Handango. Until recently open mobile platforms such as J2ME and Symbian had the advantage of guaranteeing low barriers of entry with an upfront investment of $0 or close to close to $0. Wireless carriers could also opt for BREW and its end2end solution providing an appealing business model for developers. But the barriers of entry here have always been pretty high since a $10,000 investment is required for your application to be certified - a must to be considered by carriers.

But despite of this cost factor, BREW happened to become a big money-making solution for both carriers and developers. It is like supporting iTunes rather than Kazaa when you are in the music industry: the artist, record company, and distributor/platform provider are all getting paid.

Now the other mobile platform providers are somehow adjusting their propositions in order to answer to the industry's demand. Wireless carriers do want security and bugs free applications, in order to guaranty good quality in their data offerings along with their voice services. And typically carriers can not and do not want to handle the certification process. So certification programs managed by platform providers started to come into the picture...

J2ME is now providing Java Verified, Symbian launched Symbian Signed and Microsoft Mobile2Market. They all enable applications to be certified (application testing + signature) and may also provide some marketing support as well. Now Nokia is taking both J2ME and Symbian into the next level. With Preminet, Nokia intends to do for these platforms what Qualcomm has done for BREW: provide wireless carriers with a content distribution system, supporting only certified applications. But what does that mean for developers?

On one side it is becoming harder and harder for developers to get their applications on carrier's catalogues. Wireless carriers usually limit the number of apps they are selling. So let's face it as a new, record free developer, your chances to see Sprint or Verizon Wireless propose your game to their customers are becoming very, extremely low. And on the other side, with the industry trend and this Nokia initiative, it would cost you a few thousands dollars upfront even if you decide to support J2ME and Symbian, without any garanty to make a single dime out of your application.

So for independant application developers, it simply means more risks, and you-better-go-with-a-partner such as a publisher and ultimately, the pourcentage of revenues you will get may shrink, but hopefully volumes would balance... But it looks like this community will have no choice and become more and more professional. I don't know many independant developers who are playing around with BREW as much as with J2ME, developing applications "for fun" and submitting them to carriers. The BREW community seems to be more about companies and less about individuals and I believe the same may be applied to the other platforms in a near future.