Today, it is no longer enough for cellular operators to have fast networks, exclusive handsets and competitive prices. An operator also needs thousands of developers who use their APIs and SDKs to develop applications that work better on their network and devices than competitors’ devices.
That’s why most major carriers now have extensive programs that typically include a website, conferences and support teams, all designed to develop a loyal community of developers.
“Community engagement is really one of the ways we differentiate ourselves,” said Carolyn Billings, AT&T assistant vice president of developer programs.
Creating an environment that encourages third-party development dates back to at least February 1999, when NTT DoCoMo Japan launches iMode. Eighteen months later, more than 20,000 websites available on iMode because DoCoMo chose CHTML to make development easier.
The strategy tacitly acknowledges that developers are often better at figuring out what consumers want than mobile carriers. Providing developers with the right tools and then releasing them also saves costs and risks for operators as well as developing many applications on their own.
Lots of Face Time
Most carrier programs include events in developer hotbeds such as the Bay Area, as well as road shows and events co-hosted with major gatherings such as CES. Regardless of location, these events often provide a high-level roadmap of carrier plans for using technology and devices over the next few years. However, they rarely include specifics such as when a particular device or technology will be launched.
“They have a way of reading between the lines to figure out what mix to come up with,” says Billings. “But it’s not okay for us to launch early there.”
Events like hackathons are also an opportunity to get some hands-on time with new APIs and work with the staff of operators who build them. One such example is the October 2012 Sprint hackathon, which saw more than 175 developers working in teams to create an app in 24 hours.
With so many event operators lately, developers like it or not have to be picky. One thing to note is the number of operating staff present. For example, in 2012, AT&T held an all-day conference on its new API at the Museum of Computer History in Mountain View, California. Several hundred developers attended.
“We designed events at a 10:1 ratio: For every 10 developers in the room, there is an AT&T expert on hand,” said Billings.
Not every developer has the time and budget to travel to carrier events. Operator portals provide alternatives, including facilitating virtual networks with fellow developers.
“If you are looking to integrate telephony, conference calling, messaging, or interactive voice response (IVR) systems into your application, the Deutsche Telekom developer portal is the place to look for APIs, advanced components, documentation, support, news, tutorials, and events , ” said Sascha Wolter, developer evangelist for Deutsche Telekom. “You can [also] offer your own software components to other developers or easily find pre-built and pre-tested libraries on the market.”
Giving and receiving
Hackathons are also an opportunity for operators to get unsullied feedback. “This important and valuable feedback helps us improve our product,” says Wolter. “Just to give you a small example: We recently supported partner creation voice controlled coffee machine. We found some issues, which we were able to fix immediately thanks to direct channels between our partners and our development team.”
Operators often help highlight applications, giving developers promotional opportunities that would otherwise be difficult or expensive to secure. One of the example is Sprint Place your Ad auctionwhere developers bid for prominent placement in the Sprint Zone and Sprint Tab in the Google Play Store.
“Several companies told us they’ve seen a fourfold increase in their app downloads from participating in auctions,” Smith said. “Encouraging click-throughs and downloads means better monetization for developers. The cost per click through the auction process is as low as a penny, so it’s cheaper than almost any other form of advertising.”
Photo: Corbis Images
Krdel Team has been covering all things technology and telecommunications since 1998 for various publications and analytical firms. Based in Columbia, Mo., he still enjoys a childhood hobby that led to a career writing about technology: ham radio. He is a frequent contributor Digital Innovation Gazette