Francisco Kattan

Insights on the Mobile Ecosystem

My Number 1 Wish for Operators

I just participated in a panel discussion representing developer needs from operators.  The panel was moderated by Alan Qualye who kicked off the panel with the question:

If  you could have one wish to make working with a operator easier, what would that wish be?

Having worked with many developers I have many wishes, but my top wish for operators is simply to LISTEN to developers.  And by this, I mean to really listen, prioritize their requirements, and take action.

Only a year ago operators had a virtual monopoly for distribution of mobile applications and developers had to beg to get on deck.   It was difficult to get on deck, it was expensive to get certified on every handset, revenue share was low, and it was difficult to stay on deck because discovery by consumers was difficult.

But the tables have been turned now.  Competition for developers is at an all-time high.   Handset OEMs, OS players, development tool vendors, social networks, game consoles, operators, infra providers are all luring developers.  In fact, many developer programs have even created multimillion dollar funds to subsidize developers for their platform (such as the $10M Open Screen Project Fund my team and I set up for Adobe with Nokia).

The net result:   developer exodus away from operator communities to the handset and OS communities (primarily).  And as more web developers look to go mobile, going over the top is their bias.  This was been documented by Alan Quayle at a recent presentation (look at slide 5).

In this environment operators need to treat developers as valuable customers and listen to their requirements:

  • Shorten time to market of new applications (2 weeks)
  • Simplify the certification process (and stop charging for this)
  • Reduce handset fragmentation
  • Share 70% of revenue with developers
  • Enable developers to set their own price
  • Be transparent on what it takes to get promoted

As you can imagine, some developers on the panel voiced their frustration with operators:  “I don’t have a wish for operators.  I’ve given up.  I’ve chosen to go around the operators, over the top.” Shai Berger, CEO of Fonolo, was also on the panel.  Check out his blog post here.

Many operators still have an opportunity to garner developer attention and even have a number of advantages over other players in the value chain.  But unless they listen to developer requirements and move quickly to implement them, the developer exodus will continue, accelerating operator commoditization.

That’s my wish.

What is your wish?  Please share it with a comment.


Written by Francisco Kattan

September 1, 2009 at 5:55 pm

6 Responses

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  1. Thanks for the pointer to Quayle’s recent presentation. Slide 6’s reference to brought back memories! Indeed we’ve seen again and again how much of a train wreck it is for operators to try to manage storefronts.

    Tim Hyland

    September 2, 2009 at 11:00 am

    • Hey Tim. Thanks for dropping by. Genie does bring back memories from the good old days at Openwave 🙂


      September 10, 2009 at 7:22 pm

  2. fco
    i am not sure operators today can practically accomplish some of the issues developers are complaining about. Operator organizations are still siloed. The department that sets up the developer program (and runs the on-boarding service) has to contend with the department in charge of messaging or location or payment to help the developer create a meaningful service. this is easier said than done. It would be smarter and easier for the operator to work with a third party who knows how to set up a dev community and just open up API’s to their assets with the right business model.

    my 0.02


    September 7, 2009 at 2:32 pm

    • Hello GN. You make very good points. The silos will definitely get in the way. The model you are suggesting (working with third parties) is a model that has been tried with some degree of success. Verizon Wireless for example worked with Qualcomm and Adobe to leverage the BREW and Flash communities (though they are now changing gears). To differentiate, operators should make their network assets available to these communities via APIs as you mentioned. This will enable developers to offer richer applications when running on their network and will help operators retain their place in the value chain.

      I think different models will evolve overtime. Many operators will attempt to build communities around their own app stores. Although many will try, only the very large ones will be able to compete for developer attention. Other operators will rely on aggregators, and others will rely on the handset/OS app stores – foregoing the opportunity to differentiate on this basis.


      September 10, 2009 at 7:28 pm

  3. […] "developer exodus away from operator communities to the handset and OS communities"(more here). Alan’s summary is […]

  4. […] the tables are now turned resulting in a developer exodus away from operators (for more on this see My Number One Wish for Operators).   To regain developer mindshare many operators are launching their own “app store style” […]

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