How many mobile vendors still talk about the mobile industry always being underestimated - examples include 'look at those pessimistic forecasts in the mid-1990s', and 'who could have foreseen SMS'.
Unfortunately, the financial markets now see through such optimism. They don't want networks and applications to be built on a whim or in the 'build it and they will come' mentality. They want to see clear evidence of user demand - a company who can clearly articulate what users are willing to pay for.
As the mobile operators face increasingly challenging markets they have wanted more from the vendors such as financing. Where the operators really need is help in generating revenue - the applications, business models and support.
There are a host of companies ready to provide this help, as well as their own in-house support. The mobile vendors need to be key players in this to sell their own infrastructure, platforms and devices, and be the 'end-to-end' partners. Otherwise they risk being stuck at the bottom of the value-chain and losing out in the supply of equipment. They need developers for this, and developers need standards.
What do developers want?
Developers know lots of companies are keen to help them. The developers do not just join the mobile vendors' developer communities, but those from the software industry as well. Microsoft has over six million developers - far more than any of the mobile vendors.
Many are cynical about the developers' groups which make great claims, but often fail to deliver. They want to see the balance of power in the relationship shifted more towards them - about the developers making money and not just the vendors.
The mobile market represents a particular nightmare of multiple standards and systems, applications needed to be adapted for each device, and regional specifications. It's not enough to be a better mousetrap, winning applications must conform to standards.
Take the examples of games - a great mobile application as games consume idle time and the mobile device is always with the user. Given the uncertainty around the evolution of the mobile gaming market, games developers do not want to either develop multiple versions or try and pick winning platforms.
The Universal Mobile Games Platform (UMGP) is still very new, and developers will still need to offer different codes for different device manufacturers. However, it gives them a far greater level of confidence in developing new games.
The mobile vendors want...
The economic slowdown has made the vendors face up to many truths. These include; they can't develop everything in-house, they can't develop applications without a clear market demand, they cannot go it alone and they must think commercially in all realms of their business. Their core expertise is voice - they need partners to develop applications in the data and Internet world.
The mobile vendors need the developer community to work with them, preferably to the extent that they become dependent on that vendor but at least to support their products. They see this as a 'win-win' situation - both parties sell more. But they know they are fighting to attract the best developers. They know the developers have a promiscuous relationship with many vendors. Mobile vendors must offer more in the way of support, and ultimately make it as easy as possible for the developers to make money.
To achieve this, mobile vendors must support standardization efforts and ensure that developers are not coding for proprietary solutions that only work with one vendor. Of course, they will always try and push the standards work towards their own development efforts and try and maximize their own position. They will try and create de facto standards around industry groupings - but they will lose developer support if they ignore standards.
The other great fear of mobile vendors is that the major software companies could dominate mobile applications. They need to ensure that the best developers from the fixed Internet world are working with them.
Three of the leading mobile vendors are profiled as to how they work with the developer community.
Forum Nokia was set up for developers using technologies supported by Nokia. It has around 400,000 registered members, although its competitors claim that the quality is not high. Nokia has also pushed the developer area into new directions. These include the Nokia Developer NetPoint and Tradepoint. NetPoint provides a community for developers. TradePoint provides a service for developers to sell directly to operators and enterprises. Nokia believes it can offer support to developers on five ascending levels.
1. Show them the benefits of the Nokia brand.
2. Illustrate commercial benefits and Nokia offerings to developers.
3. Support with testing tools and white papers.
4. Help in the development of applications.
5. Help in selling and marketing applications.
Nokia hosts global developer conference, events which operators, enterprises and service providers also attend. The majority of the developers are based in Europe.
In March 2001, Ericsson launched the Ericsson Mobility World, which was grandly hailed as "an industry-wide initiative to accelerate the development of the global Mobile Internet market". This encompassed other Ericsson activities with application developers, particularly the Ericsson Developers' Zone. The main reason for the upgrade was to catch up with its competitors in supporting developers by ensuring that Ericsson could offer something approaching global distribution and support.
Ericsson Mobility World currently has around 100,000 developers and 3,000 companies registered. Membership is on three levels:
1. Open level - free service for the vast majority of registered users providing basic information.
2. Associate level - those who have already created applications for Ericsson. Ericsson assists with certification, marketing and testing.
3. Close relationship - closely involved with Ericsson, and may even have secured funding from Ericsson Venture Partners.
Ericsson Mobility World currently has 40 centers globally to support local developers. It also organizes conferences for developers including events where operators are also present.
Motorola provides developer support through the Motorola Applications Global Network (MAGNET). It may have a more catchy name than that offered by Nokia or Ericsson, but it is behind in other areas. It has about 45,000 developers, and around 50% of those are based in the US.
The MAGNET website offers the development tools needed to create wireless solutions for Motorola products and servers. Motorola offers developers early access to its latest products, help with business models and global distribution.
It currently has MAGNET centres in Stockholm, London, Chile, Florida, Beijing and Tokyo. These provide support in developing localized applications. The MAGNET group works alongside Motorola Ventures and Alliances divisions. add elementimagesubtitleparagraph
Role of standards
Standards are often the results of months of compromise between competing vendors. They can be poorly written and define only low levels of functionality. The mobile industry seems to be trying to create an IT record for new industry consortia to create new standards. These supposedly work on areas where the real standards bodies have not had the time or resources to focus. Recent examples include mobile payment (MET), instant messaging (wireless village) and wireless multimedia (WMF).
The value of these industry consortia vary. Some are an attempt by mobile vendors to protect their market from outside groups, whether it be the wider IT industry or the credit card companies. Some are much wider in scope. For example, support for xHTML in developing mobile applications came from mobile vendors, operators, IT hardware and software companies. All the consortia recognize that they cannot go it alone.
Two examples illustrate this. First, in the development of messaging after SMS, two solutions were offered; Smart Messaging from Nokia and EMS from an industry grouping including Ericsson, Alcatel and Siemens. Nokia claimed Smart Messaging was open source and EMS (enhanced messaging services) offered no additional benefits. The other vendors stated their commitment to EMS - for example, Ericsson supports it in its T39 handset. Yet, rather than continue this competition all the vendors have joined a group to promote MMS (multimedia messaging services), and promised to start delivering new handsets supporting it by year end.
Second, the Mobile Services Initiative from Openwave and Genie. This was designed to kickstart the development of WAP based on the work of the two partners. However, before pushing such a solution, Openwave and Genie gained the support of the influential GSM Association and have sought to reassure the mobile community that the Mobile Services Initiative will be consistent with current and future WAP development.
Are standards killing innovation?
There is a view that this commitment to standards will slow down mobile innovation. Reactions vary from 'yes, but we have no choice' to a defiant 'no' citing such examples as WAP or GSM. The real answer is probably that standards delay some innovations by 2-3 months but no longer. The biggest motivation for a developer is that the applications will sell, and standards ensure that.
For the vendors, they need to ensure that they nurture and support the developer community, providing the commercialism and professionalism that they desire. They will also need to ensure that they think about which standards they should be supporting, rather than being involved in every industry initiative.
Steve Wallage works and writes for the451, a website that offers critical news analysis, comment and opinion on the technology, communications and media industries with an emphasis on their convergence. Steve has more than 13 years of experience as a technology analyst specializing in telecommunications.
Most recently, he was a principal analyst at Gartner Group tracking the voice, data and IP service markets for the carrier, vendor and financial community. He predicted how these markets are likely to grow, and helped develop the business plans of leading vendors while analyzing key trends in the market.