Friday, August 14, 2009

Need app developers? Give them respect.

According to Engadget, both Microsoft and Sony are attempting to lure iPhone developers away from the platform to develop apps for the Zune HD and the PSPgo, respectively. Allegedly, Sony is just asking developers to convert, but Microsoft is offering cash to defecting developers.

However, I don't anticipate that either of these strategies will attract many high-quality developers. Switching platforms is a major change that requires a great deal of time and effort. More importantly, the developer has to believe that there's a future for the platform.

Nonetheless, I believe that both companies could foster development environments as fertile as the Apple's by dropping development barriers and treating developers with respect.

Break down development barriers

Many great app developers have never written an app. Some don't have the cash to buy Macs and pay $99 to get their developer certificates from Apple. Some don't consider the investment worth the money. Some don't know how to develop an app. Whatever the reason, there is a large pool of potential developers who have never made it over Apple's speed bumps.

Sony and Microsoft need to make it free and easy to develop an app for their platforms. The SDK should be free, open-source, and cross-platform. It should be completely self-contained, but it should also be compatible with a major IDE. It should contain a thorough tutorial that takes the new developer from project creation to final compilation.

When it comes time to publish an app, the developer should pay less than fifty dollars to make the app available for purchase and absolutely nothing from that point on. Developers should be able to set their own prices and the platform should charge < 30%. If an app is free, the developer should not be charged when it is downloaded.

Respect developers

Both Sony and Microsoft should capitalize on the current uproar about Apple's opaque and draconian app screening process by making their app screening as transparent and inclusive as possible. The application rules should be straightforward, comprehensive, and accessible to developers. Before the developer even downloads the SDK, he should be shown a summary of the rules.

Every developer whose app is rejected should receive a thorough and specific explanation. The app reviewer should say which rule the app broke, which part of the app broke the rule, and what can be done to fix the app. If the app store doesn't have the time to write these explanations, it's obviously rejecting too many apps.

Apple's iPhone development environment has its weaknesses, but to focus on luring away its developers with cash would be short-sighted. Sony and Microsoft must build their developer base with App Store cast-offs and new developers before they can offer the massive install base of the App Store. They need more than a just few money-motivated iPhone developers to launch their platforms.