I’ve recently attended two events featuring developer evangelists with Microsoft and Samsung for Windows Phone and Android/Bada respectively. The events had very similar speakers that touched on many of the same points for both platforms. Both would talk about the specs of the latest devices, the APIs and features around the respective platforms. What they were both missing in spades, was any real business case for why someone should develop for the platform.
Not from the actual event
If you’re in a room full of Computer Science students and coders, you’re probably going to get away with simply talking about the APIs and features around developing for a Windows Phone device or for Samsung products. Okay, your latest device has a barometer, that’s cool. Maybe a developer is sitting there thinking of some app they’d like to hack together that takes advantage of that, just to see how it works. But there are more just coders that make up these events. A Mobile Monday isn’t just a room of programmers. It’s largely a room of company decision makers that want to know if your platform is a viable business. Both Samsung and Microsoft’s evangelists were lacking on their ability to pitch the platforms as businesses.
When it comes to Windows Phone and Bada, the same question came up: “what is the unique value proposition for developing for these platforms?” Both Bada and Windows Phone don’t really have the numbers to justify mass market apps, so why should a company take the time to code apps for them? Sure, Bada probably has around 20 million users, but how many of them are actually buying apps seeing as though these devices are hitting the low-end feature phone market? Even the Samsung Android store apparently only has 250 million downloads compared to RIM’s nearly 2 billion.
Here are two obvious business cases for Windows Phone and Samsung that were not even discussed by the respective evangelist:
Windows Phone: When you code a game for Windows Phone, you can use the same code base to deploy your game on Xbox Live and vice versa (although it may not be so easy at the moment). Considering Xbox sold a million consoles during Black Friday alone, this is a very significant user base. Take that plus the 3 million or so Windows Phone devices in market and you have a nice beginning for a premium game.
Samsung: Just like with Windows Phone, there’s a cross-platform opportunity allowing you to take your Android apps that are Samsung approved over to the Samsung Smart TV sets. Again, this kind of opportunity allows you to get your application in front of a premium viewership that will pay good money for a solid application or game. At the Samsung event, this was briefly mentioned and took up about 2 seconds compared to the 20 minutes the speaker took showing us the specs of devices we’d already read about.
A quick note about Bada: why hasn’t Samsung killed it? There’s no cost associated with Android so why bother? You’re just splitting your user base and providing less devices/users for developers to get access to. The features of Bada are really lacking too. The Samsung evangelist was promoting “push notifications” and “multitasking” in all seriousness. The Microsoft evangelist was no better and went as far as saying that a cool feature of Windows Phone is that when you close and app, it remembers where you were. Amazing.
Samsung and Microsoft could learn a lot from the approach RIM is taking with the PlayBook. Personally, I have spent about $40 already on premium games for the PlayBook and I couldn’t be happier. RIM has made it easy for premium game publishers such as Gameloft and EA to port their games to the device by integrating with platforms such as Unity and Marmalade. When you make it easy for a developer to port their code and slap a relatively high price tag on the app, it makes it easier to justify the development cost and move your game to that platform, especially in light of small unit sales. In the end, developers want the least amount of effort for the greatest potential payout. It’s more about money than it is about whether or not your app can utilize the “tiles” feature.
This is also a good time to mention the value proposition of BlackBerry:
70 million BlackBerry subscribers
Nearly 2 billion app downloads
Over 3 million app downloads per day
Available in 113 countries
3 payment options: carrier billing, PayPal and credit card
As a developer evangelist, you should finish with a slide like that and say “if you can’t make money on those numbers, you’re not doing it right.”
UPDATE: Speaking to the point of how it’s important to cater to a developer’s business sense, I highly recommend reading “BlackBerry PlayBook App Development: Surprising Opportunities“. It’s a great article that gives some insight into the revenue considerations of developing an app.