Developing relationships

With the developer community becoming more important than ever, many carriers are faced with the same issue as consumers taking their first plunge into the world of apps – how to find the gems of quality amid the worthless stones. Vodafone’s answer is an annual competition, Mobile Clicks, which aims to identify and develop the best, most innovative mobile internet start ups. caught up with Hemant Madan, Vodafone’s head of developer marketing and the company’s Android app store, ahead of this year’s event.

This year, seven Vodafone operations are taking part in the competition, which takes a Dragon’s Den style approach with three judging rounds – two at local country level, one of which is a physical pitch to judges, which Madan describes as “Good practice for going up against real VCs.” All seven local winners will then go on to represent their country in a live final at the PICNIC festival in the Netherlands in September.

Vodafone Ventures is involved in the judging process and one of the objectives of the division is to make the best use of the natural advantage the operator has to get the first move on new innovations that arise as a result of the competition.

But the event also serves to help Vodafone build up its own app store offering – the Vodafone Shop for Android. Madan, like many in this industry, believes that the openness championed by Android has inherent advantages and disadvantages.

“Lots of phone users are upgrading to from their basic device or feature phone to a smartphone and as a result they are considering their first apps,” Madan says. “But the challenge for these users, especially Android users, is that they are inundated with choice of apps.”

By solving one problem – where to find the apps, app stores create another problem – how to discover relevant apps. Madan sees the Android Market as a distribution route for developers to access many countries, but notes that it is still difficult to be discovered.

Which is where the Vodafone Shop comes in: “The developer community is more important than ever. The apps industry is growing and services are becoming more open, so the objective of the shop is to offer higher quality apps and differentiate itself from the Android Market because it’s curated and an environment with a focus on quality. As the industry becomes more open the main objective is to put more innovation in front of the consumer,” he says.

True enough, the Android Market has been dogged by criticism of its poor search and categorisation functionality as well as the appearance of copied, pirated and malware booby trapped apps in its storefront.

“There’s more potential for misappropriation in this environment, so with curation we can put a higher focus on quality and vetting. We’re not running a walled garden in the Apple context but do have requirements which developers have to meet. We look at the quality of applications and focus on categories,” he says.

To help consumers dip their toes into the app waters Vodafone bundles selected apps together in starter packs, which for a London based user might include National Rail, TFL, a tube map and local news applications.

Yet Madan acknowledges that there is a problem with fragmentation, due to the availability of more than one app store on the same device, but counters that while distribution is key element, higher discovery capabilities are more attractive.

He is also wary of the fickle loyalty of the developer community. “We do have a few developers we work closely with who prepare apps for us, but nobody owns the developer community. Developers own their own agenda,” he says. So how can Vodafone attract them? “90 per cent of app downloads are free. But we don’t want ad revenue – the overhead is too much to recover ad revenues for us. So developers supported by ads alone need distribution and have to deal with fragmentation as a result. We target developers who want to be able to make money from paid for apps which can be bought via a secure and trusted mechanism that only the operator can offer. “

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