Do we need a Mobile Developer Alliance?
- We will be having a post-Java Mobile & Embedded Developer Days meeting on Friday 1/25 where we will continue the discussion on this topic after kicking it off at the conference. If you're interested please contact me or Sean Sheedy. For more information, please see Seans blog.
I think most people would agree that feature-rich mobile platforms and unfettered wireless data servicesÂ coupled with a new wave of content (rich, interactive, integrated, dynamic, personalized, meshed) will be catalysts for the next phase of the participation age.
The platforms, software architectures, protocols, networks, and usage models have been surfacing and evolving for some time now and mobile Java is playing a central role. But really this evolution is about content, content, and ... more content: The cool new applications, the innovate functionality, theÂ "anytime, anywhere" dynamic and meshed information that offers users new ways of interacting with the physical and virtual world around them. Call it "Web 3.0"?
But is the mobile ecosystem as a whole really facilitating the development and deployment of this new wave of content? Is it easy for developers and content creators to think up, build, deploy, and monetizeÂ the things that excite users and drive new uses of mobile technologies? Does the mobile industry in its current state provide a fertile ground for allowing innovation to occur and new ideas to flourish?
A while ago I attempted to capture the situation developers find themselves in today when trying to bring content to market. A key diagram I came up with was this:
Don't worry about following each and every detail in the diagram. The point is to realize that the situation is complex - and for a number of reasons.
Before proceeding I think is important to realize that while the diagram mentions Java it should be clear that it is by no means unique to Java but that it applies (with variations) to the mobile ecosystem in the wider sense. Furthermore, specific market segments that provide a somewhat more straightforward model typically achieve that with a trade-off in flexibility and choice by means of a single vendor approach in the technology or model. At the end of the day such "simplifications" just add another dimension to the situation and don't truly simplify things from the perspective of the developer trying to address the wider market.
The main point to take away from the diagram above is that developers are in a less then enviable position - the place where the rubber meets the road. In order to create exciting applications and content and make a living from that developers need to pull all the pieces together and get things to work across a multitude of technologies, devices, platforms, vendors, networks, and business models - achieving this with constrained resources within a tight market window while somehow keeping their sanity. The bottom line is that the multitude of variables and parties to deal with is truly challenging and seriously inhibits innovation and growth of the entire sector.
But it gets worse still. As a big and established player you typically have relationships with the parties you need to deal with in getting your content into market and you have the resources to throw at the complexity. However, history has shown without a doubt that most innovation comes from unexpected places, from individuals in a garage, from left base - folks without the rolodex and the deep pockets. As described presently the mobile industry is tilted in favor of big established players - so it is highly probable that the industry is currently wittingly or unwittingly depriving itself of the very content it needs to attract in order to catch the next wave.
How did this situation come about? I think there are three main reasons:
1) While mobile platforms have been around for a decade or more it is important to realize that we are still in the midst of the technological evolution - competing standards and platforms are a natural by-product of maturation in a technology space. So that is a historical development.
2) In contrast to the wired Internet the mobile ecosystem adds another dimension with its own set of rules: The network operator. Think of it as the wired Internet being accessible only through CompuServe, AOL, and the like. Remember? Such is the situation the mobile space currently and it hardly makes things easier.
3) Developers are a fragmented group - they have no consistent voice and they are all busy fighting for themselves. Hence, they have no representation and no leverage to influence the industry.
So, where am I going with all this? The bottom line is that the most important and most innovative part of the mobile ecosystem - the small application and content developer - has traditionally been woefully underrepresented in the industry with many detrimental consequences for the entire mobile market.Â While many players in the ecosystem claim to understand and cater to the developers it is clear that nobody can speak for the developers but themselves - and drive goals and topics that are truly important to them.
The state of the mobile industry today really begs the question: Do we need a Mobile Developer Alliance? An entity that represents the needs of mobile developers and works towards making application and content development easier and spurs innovation to the benefit of the entire industry. And if so, what would such a Mobile Developer Alliance look like, how would it operate, what were its goals and policies?
It's a topic that will be surely hotly discussed at the upcoming Java Mobile & Embedded Developer Days. I'm doing a lightning talk (LT-8) on the subject, there will be a panel discussion (TS-9), and we'll probably talk about it in one or more of the ad-hoc brainstorming sessions.
I'm curious to hear your thoughts. And/or meet you at the conference to discuss it in person.
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