Mobile: The Next Great Developer Story

A wealth of different platforms, from Nokia to Windows Mobile to Android to the iPhone, place the mobile space among the rapidly growing greenfields for developers. New platforms, such as Android from Google, will challenge Nokia and its SymbianOS in the smart phone space.

NEW YORK -- The mobile market offers vast and varied opportunities for developers, with platforms such as Nokia's Symbian, Windows Mobile and Linux-based technologies vying for developer mindshare.

However, as a group of leaders at a recent meeting of the NYSIA (New York Software Industry Association) here said, developers are most likely to go to the platform that makes things efficient for them and where they can make the most money building applications. Right now, Symbian is the mobile market leader with the largest number of smart phones based on the SymbianOS, but as the market evolves, that could change.

"We want to enable developers to take what they know and build what they want," said Eric John, director of marketing for Forum Nokia, Nokia's global development community. "We're not talking about just the C++ and Java developers, but even Web designers and others who want to create applications to run on top of the Nokia handset."

John, who was part of a July 14 NYSIA panel entitled "Mobile -- The Opportunity for Developers and Business People," said the mobile space shows where the power of Web services and applications are merging. And Nokia is pushing three primary types of applications: Web applications, ad-enabled applications and location-based applications.

"New York is a development town, but it's more of an advertising town," John said. "We're looking at applications as a way to bring consumers together with advertisers via widgets."

Meanwhile, Vishy Gopalakrishnan, founder and CTO at Mobility Partners, a wireless and mobility consultant to Fortune 1,000 companies, said the merging of location capability with other features allow targeting to be done and enables the intersection of payments via mobile. "We see location as something that factors into decisions for building applications," he said.

Gopalakrishnan said that "developers will flock to environments that provide them an easy way to develop mobile and wireless applications and to distribute them and make money. Apple has made things easy as long as it's for the iPhone. Nokia has 60-plus percent market share ... But how can I make money off of that and then take that to RIM [Research in Motion] and other environments? It's not going to get easier in the next couple of years."

Tyler Lessard, director of the BlackBerry ISV alliances and developer relations programs within RIM's Global Alliances team, spoke on the perceived iPhone threat to RIM.

"It's been interesting to see the growth of the market overall; it's a great bolster to the entire community," Lessard said. "What's great for all of us here is as Apple and the rest raise the ante, they're also raising the opportunity for mobile developers. We had challenges in the mobile market because it was business only for a long time. The overall smart phone market is big enough for a number of players."

For his part, Gopalakrishnan said, "If I'm a developer, I'm asking where am I going to have my applications seen? What's interesting about the technology and what's going to get me into the next curve," he said about which platform developers should look to.

"Linux is an interesting operating system ... so explain the Android," he said of the Linux-based mobile phone software stack being developed by Google and the Open Handset Alliance. "Google's intention is to monetize all these [Android] applications. Yes, Android has been doing an incredible job of raising the profile of mobile application development, but their challenge is in hitting the critical mass of applications in the market for developers to make money."

Gopalakrishnan said look at the mobile devices themselves, and at Nokia going the Symbian route and commoditizing the platform. "Look at what Nokia is doing and how they are moving from being a devices company to a software and services company and what Apple is doing with Apple MobileMe -- there is a lot of money to be made," he said.

"From Nokia's perspective, we've always viewed the distribution and the platform as virtually interlocked," John said. "With Symbian, HTML and widgets we want to make it easy for developers and make it possible for you to write and distribute your applications globally. We will enable developers to build applications that run on the desktop, move to the cloud and onto the device," he said.

Meanwhile, RIM's Lessard said RIM focused on making all of its handsets based on the same Java Virtual Machine. "One of the challenges we face is awareness and distribution and the sales channel," he said. "We could open up a great 'app store' but the problem is that the carriers are the first line of support. So we focused on working with our carriers and helping them build up catalogs."

Lessard also discussed RIM's use of Java on its devices. "Java is alive on our devices 100 percent," he said. "If we didn't have Java on our devices we wouldn't be in many of the enterprise accounts that we're in. We're 100 percent committed to Java and the JVM."