Web developer relations management in the mobile world

In addition to the quality of their web environment, there’s another factor that will decide whether or not mobile web players are going to survive: the quality of their developer relations outreach. Here’s a quick and dirty look at the current state of affairs.

And yes, I admit that this overview is based almost solely on my own experiences in finding sponsors and panelists for Mobilism, and I also admit that I’m writing this post because I’m very frustrated right now.

At Mobilism we want sponsors not to give us money, but to give us devices which we can subsequently share out among our attendees. The point here is that this is what mobile web players are going to have to do anyway.

If you’re a minor player; say LG, or Mozilla, or HP, no web developer is going to buy your handsets any time soon because there are plenty more important platforms to cover, and web developers have only so much budget they can spend on devices every year. So if such a minor player wants to come on to web devs’ To Test list, they have to give away devices. Lots and lots of them.

So my request for devices is not odd: it’s part and parcel of a winning mobile web strategy. Very few companies seem to understand that, though.

The white list

So. Who does get mobile web devrel? The list is disappointingly short: Opera, Nokia, and RIM.

In general I find it possible to talk to Opera and Nokia, and downright easy to talk to the various BlackBerry teams. I’m lucky in that I have found the people at RIM who are actually empowered to make decisions. They may think about something for little a while, but always follow up with a clear Yes or No.

In addition, RIM is pretty easy with giving away devices (they gave away nearly 2,000 PlayBooks during BBDevCon in Amsterdam), while Nokia has a formal loan programme that you can sign up to as a developer.

As to Opera, it has the unique advantage that its product is downloadable, so it is the only mobile player that does not have to give away devices.

Apple

Apple, of course, doesn’t talk to anyone because it is ruled by paranoids. That’s OK, because nobody expects it to talk to anyone. And they get plenty of devrel goodness anyway, because everybody is excited about their products.

The thing that most mobile web players don’t understand is that what works for Apple doesn’t work for anyone else. Apple is an exception. Emulating Apple’s non-approach to devrel is a disastrous decision for any other party.

Android

The rest of the mobile web field is pretty bad to outright awful in their devrel; and that specifically includes Android and Mozilla.

From the outset it was clear that there should be an Android representative on the mobile browser panel. Tough luck. The Android guys don’t give a shit about the web.

Android has fallen into the hands of Java guys who STILL disdain the web and who STILL think they can win without taking the web into account. I have the distinct impression that the Android WebKit team is starved of resources, as the IE team was up until the release of IE8.

The only upside to all of this is that once we get rid of Android we get rid of the last stronghold of the Java dinosaurs. I can’t wait.

Oh, and in case you’re wondering: I’ve been trying since November. November 2010, that is. And despite some pretty extensive help from several of my non-Android Google contacts I never got one single solitary reply, except from one person who didn’t have decision-making authority and wasn’t even in devrel.

So fuck Android.

Here Chrome on Android could make a difference; at least Chrome devrels are used to talking to web developers. They cannot be possibly as bad as Android.

Still, they have to understand that web developers will not be able to enjoy Chrome on Android if they do not have an Android 4 device. And most of them do not have the budget to buy one. As long as that is understood there may be the beginnings of a fruitful relation here.

Update: Well, this worked. It looks likely the mobile browser panel will feature a Chrome on Android representative.

Mozilla

Then Mozilla. When they announced Boot to Gecko I immediately understood I’d have to try and get some actual devices to Mobilism, so I contacted them. I was fully prepared for a polite No; their hardware partner might not be able to produce actual devices before May.

Instead, I never got a reply. A few months later it took the concerted effort of two Mozilla devrels to get the responsible person to send me an acknowledgement (not, mind you, an actual reply). That was a month ago, and it’s now abundantly clear that I’m never going to hear from them again.

I may find other ways to get B2G to Mobilism, but frankly I’m wondering if I should bother. After all, Mozilla itself is clearly not interested in getting their devices into the hands of web developers.

So fuck Mozilla.

Update: Robert Nyman replies to this piece. From his reply I learned that Mozilla will not sponsor Mobilism. Although I assumed that to be the case, it’s typical that I have to hear the news in this way instead of in a private mail.

The Asians

Where Android and Mozilla have no excuse whatsoever, the Asian vendors can at least quote serious cultural differences. The Asian idea of developer relations is that developers are graciously allowed to follow the orders of the company and never EVER complain, or show initiative, or even criticise them.

This is not going to work in the long run. In fact, I see it as the biggest weakness of the Asian device vendors.

When Samsung and Intel announced they were going to co-chair the Tizen project I wondered what Intel’s role was going to be. Meanwhile I know: devrel management. Intel does seem to have a clue what it’s doing, and might make up for Samsung’s lack of outreach.

Anyway, if the Asian vendors don’t care about web developers, web developers are not going to care about Asian vendors. In the long run I think the second is more serious and harmful.

Conclusion

In conclusion, the state of web developer relations management in the mobile world is a complete mess, and I think it’s going to hurt several mobile players next year or so. Web developers are interested in what the mobile players have to offer, but they just can’t afford to buy all their devices.

So if you’re looking for developers who want to create nice HTML5 apps for your platform, give away devices. Tons of them.

Not that anybody is going to listen to me.

This is the blog of Peter-Paul Koch, mobile platform strategist, consultant, and trainer. You can also follow him on Twitter.
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