The quality of software will soon drive consumers’ purchase of cell phones, much like the availability of specific games has determined which consoles people buy, says Peter Farago, vice president of marketing for Flurry, a company that provides information on which mobile platforms are attracting developers. Farago, a speaker at our upcoming Mobilize 09 conference, talked to me last week about the rise of developers as the kingmakers for mobile handsets, and how many platforms the current class of developers are likely to support. Below is an edited version of our conversation.
GigaOM: Why are developers so important?
Peter Farago: Good software is a virtuous cycle that leads to adoption of hardware. You didn’t buy a computer because you wanted a computer; you bought one because you wanted to use Word. You also go buy an Xbox so you can play Halo on it, and that’s what Apple has tried to do with the iPhone and the handset market.
GigaOM: How can platform providers keep developers happy?
Farago: Apple took two roles in the carrier ecosystem that were sick and ailing, the handset and the carrier app store, and made them better. That’s how it attracted developers that made the iPhone so exciting. Developers need a marketplace where they can have access to consumers, and Apple created a process and an app store that reduced the friction of distribution. They also created a phone that was so well-designed it embarrassed the wireless industry. All a developer wants is an easy place to sell their goods, and Apple has done dozens of things, from creating the device and store process to having credit card info already integrated into the store to give them what they want.
GigaOM: So far, you’re excited about Apple. What about the other platforms? Is there room for them?
Farago: All these guys are continuing to work on the iPhone, but it’s not an either/or situation. They are adding Android SKUs, and they’re starting to close the gap against iPhone in terms of the time developers spend building apps for the platform. Android as a platform is relying on HTC and Motorola to create these kick-ass handsets, and I don’t know if they can do it. Android has the best potential to create that one-size-fits-all platform that could be very PC vs. Mac all over again. There are supposed to be 20-30 Android handsets, and at the end of they day, developers will not ignore it.
GigaOM: And Palm or Research In Motion?
Farago: Palm is just starting out, and they’re doing a lot of developer marketing. When trying to kickstart a program, and you already have developers with a finite amount of time, it becomes harder, so Palm will have to spend more money and effort to get developers to port applications to them. RIM (the maker of the BlackBerry) has good communications functions and is more enterprise-skewed. App World (the BlackBerry app store) is not so great and price points are higher, but there are a lot of BlackBerry users.
GigaOM: In the U.S., people don’t buy phones for apps — they buy them for voice. Is this changing?
Farago: The U.S. has always been the laggard, and we have historically thought of phones as not doing anything other than making a call or sending a text message. But less than 10 years ago, people carried their Palm or Handspring around as an electronic day planner. So the phone as a gaming platform, messaging platform, iPod and all of these things together isn’t that strange. And Apple has played a big role in that shift. Not only has it brought out a device to let people discover that a phone is more than just a phone, but they also spent money to educate the market about what else their phones can do.