The top five things app developers want from developer organizations

Peggy Albright

People who create mobile applications depend on developer organizations for the necessary software tools and other resources. While developers are generally satisfied with the services they receive from these organizations, there is always room for improvement.

In particular, I found developers would like five things from these organizations:

  1. Earlier access to new software and hardware;
  2. Access to best practices for some of the more challenging development issues they face;
  3. Greater availability to technical experts;
  4. More access to strategic information, such as technology roadmaps, which are needed for long-term planning; and
  5. Developer sites that integrate with social media and online forums used by developer communities.

This wish-list is the result of an informal survey I conducted with developers from three firms: Applico, UIEvolution and frog. Overall, the developers indicated that developer organizations have steadily improved as the industry has matured and become more competitive. The popularity of application development in general can be considered a reflection of the effectiveness of these organizations.

Here's what developer organizations are doing right:

In addition to hosting regular developer events, these groups make sure that their sites function as official sources of up-to-date news about their specific platforms and reference materials and that they provide tutorials, videos, sample code and software tools that developers must have.

The organizations have greatly improved the quality of the documentation accompanying their APIs and made special efforts to keep the documentation up to date. In particular, Google, which struggled with this for a while, has improved its API documentation for Android developers.

The various organizations are also generally providing better access to hardware so developers can work with real devices when creating and refining apps. Google (NASDAQ:GOOG), Microsoft (NASDAQ:MSFT) and RIM are fairly generous about providing devices to developers, but Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL) is not. Microsoft and RIM, because of their market challenges, have even offered financial support to developers to attract them to their programs.

The efforts underscore the importance of developers to these organizations.

"They've realized, in the last couple years, that developers are the ones that will make and break their platforms and that they should cater to the developers," said Matthew Powers, CTO of Applico. 

So what do developers want?

In Powers' opinion, developers want "access to the latest and greatest resources as early as possible," whether those resources are SDKs, APIs or hardware. They're eager to get working with new and emerging technologies and can't get these soon enough, he said.  

Best practices on app development challenges that are commonly experienced, but difficult to solve, would also be valuable, Powers said.  A typical SDK, for example, won't help a developer deal with problems that can occur if the device runs low on battery or loses its network connection, or decide how often their app should access the cloud to update and synchronize data. He'd like information and examples of how to address these types of issues.

Developer organizations could also significantly bolster their value to the community by increasing access to technical experts, said Chris Ruff, CEO of UIEvolution.

Ruff noted that while some developer organizations are technology-centric and offer good support, others focus on providing business and marketing services. The business aspects are important, but when developers are trying to solve a technical problem quickly, they look for technical experts, he said.

He would like to see "greater access to technical support from people who know the problems we're working on," he said. "If they're moving in that direction I think it would be beneficial to everyone in the industry," he added.

Ruff noted, as well, that the pace of change in the industry is a challenge. While technology change inspires innovation, the frequent changes to mobile platforms make it hard for developers to get a long-term return on their efforts. He acknowledged that platform providers can't reveal much about their future plans for competitive reasons. But any information that would help developers understand platform roadmaps a year or so in advance would be really helpful, he said.

"If we could have a longer-term view, it would help us plan reactions rather than being reactive all the time," Ruff said.

Developer web sites could also use some substantial revamping to better interact with developers, said Andy Zeldis, principal design technologist at frog.

Zeldis said his firm has designed developer sites previously. However, social media, software user forums and coding sites, community comment systems for websites and blogs increasingly generate online conversations that developers participate in and follow, the websites created for developer organizations need to find ways to incorporate these conversations, Zeldis said.

"I haven't seen a good one that does a good job of integrating with the community," he said.

The developers noted, as well, that platform providers still need to help developers improve app discovery and monetization. Those business issues are already receiving substantial attention. Let's hope that these developers' suggestions for more technology-related benefits will catch the attention of decision-makers and influencers in developer organizations and, perhaps, further improve these important programs. --Peggy

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