Sony Ericsson Getting Back To Symbian

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Sony Ericsson has been a long term supporter of the Symbian OS. After something of a hiatus in Symbian phones, Sony Ericsson will soon be back with the Satio, its first S60 platform phone. So how is Sony Ericsson gearing up to support Symbian developers? I talked to Christopher David, Head of Developer and Partner Engagement at Sony Ericsson.

Richard: How will Sony Ericsson’s developer program re-engage with Symbian developers as the Satio comes to market?

Christopher: Although the transition from UIQ to the Symbian platform and the launch of Satio has taken a while, our relationship with the Symbian developer community has remained good. We will be looking to re-energise these relationships in the coming weeks and ensure the community is fully aware that we have a continuing commitment to Symbian, starting with Satio.

The key for us is to demonstrate, as we are doing with Java and Flash, that we are committed to being conformant and compliant to the standards and base platform.

Our relationship with developers starts with a clear roadmap of platform support and our Developer World resources: very good documentation, information on our own APIs, tricks and tips, and tools to get developers coding as efficiently and effectively as possible. We do this equally for all the platforms we support.

Getting developers coding is only the beginning of the story. Our customers are telling us they want a phone that is unique and differentiated, not just another me-too device. Part of that differentiation will come from unique software, but more importantly unique software that enhances the user experience of a particular Sony Ericsson phone.

Richard: Doesn’t this approach run contrary to most developer’s strategies, to build to the platform to maximise application sales? Are you offering any incentives to developers for building applications to specific Sony Ericsson phones or user experiences?

Christopher: Building an application that is generic to a platform allows developers to take their application to multiple channels. However the disadvantage of this approach is that these markets are already crowded so gaining exposure and traction can be hard, sometimes very hard.

We believe it is far better for developers’ applications to be visible in a more focused channel. Gaining that visibility is all about thinking in terms of the user experience offered by a phone — such as Satio with its 12 mega pixel camera and strong focus on imaging and entertainment — and how to deliver applications that complement or enhance the user experience. Developers who can do this can gain an elevated position in the Sony Ericsson sales channels (PlayNow arena and Fun & downloads) that deliver application and content to our customers. 

So we have two goals: to foster a community of developers who can build to a generic platform — be that Symbian, Java, or Flash — but also have the ability to build to specific user experiences and the consumer aspirations embodied in our phones.

Richard: While developers can judge what the user experience is of launched Sony Ericsson phones, isn’t it a little difficult for them to do that with a device like Satio when it's not yet available?

Christopher: This is clearly a challenge. We obviously have the usual vehicles of conferences and similar events where we can meet with developers. We also plan to leverage social media and build up information on Developer World to draw developer’s attention to features of the device and how to take advantage of them. We hope to be as open as we can and enable the community to see, understand, and access as many of the device features as possible.

You will see increasing activity as we approach the commercial availability of Satio. 

Richard: You have mentioned access to unique phone features: Cross platform development is now something of a buzz word in manufacturers’ interaction with developers. Given your range of platforms and the hints you have given about unique features, how is Sony Ericsson approaching this challenge?

Christopher: Our goal is to enable developers to build to the unique features of our devices across our product range. One thing we are doing to achieve this is extending our Java platform to all our phones. However, our emphasis is more on determining the right way to deliver our differentiating APIs, whether they be for Walkman, Cyber-shot, TrackID, or Walk Mate, so that developers can take advantage of them whether it be with Java, Flash, or APIs for Symbian.

Richard: What about the XPERIA Panels, is this a technology you might roll out to a wider range of devices?

Christopher: This technology is still evolving, but it’s too early to comment specifically I’m afraid.

Richard: You mentioned earlier that well targeted applications could see better exposure in Sony Ericsson’s consumer channels. Could you explain more about Sony Ericsson’s value proposition to developers?

Christopher: A content marketplace has been in Sony Ericsson's DNA for years: starting with Fun and downloads, evolving through PlayNow to PlayNow arena. These services are now widely available in, for Fun and downloads, 69 countries and PlayNow arena is available in over 17 countries. These services offer everything from ringtones and wallpaper, through music and movies to applications. Because we have had such a long experience the infrastructure is matured and established in more markets than other comparable mobile content and application stores, with billing relationships for credit cards, premium SMS, and operator billing. So the availability and visibility of our channels is second to none.

We have no hidden costs, such as submission or membership fees (although developers need to be members of Developer World, but that is free to join.) In addition, we want to create developers a regular flow of income, so if they generate over €500 a month they will get monthly payments.

The emphasis is on quality not quantity. For example, we expect all applications to be Symbian Signed or Java Verified. However, we recognise this is an overhead for developers, so we don’t ask for signed applications at the submission stage. Once we have reviewed the application and ensured it complies with our content and quality guidelines, we will provide developers a commitment to its inclusion in our channels. Only then do developers need to get their application certified. We've also set a target of thirty days to get from submission to market availability and our intention is to reduce that period further. So, a fast track from mind to market in the true sense and that is what ‘Developer World’ stands for.

The key benefit for developers is that we are not looking for an application store of twenty or forty thousand applications, instead a targeted market of applications users will want because they enhance the experience they get from our phones. So we’re looking at a small number of quality applications. In effect, developers are assured that in our store their applications won’t simply be added to a long list of similar applications, but actually be visible to and downloaded by our customers. We will make it easy for our consumers to find applications and as a result offer developers a better revenue stream.

Even if a developer creates an application for a single Sony Ericsson phone, if that application enhances the phone’s user experience we will ensure it is easy for users to discover. So we believe developers will get more sales than they could from a generic application hidden among thousands of others in other stores.

Richard: Are you managing and controlling this all within Sony Ericsson or are you relying on third-party providers?

Christopher: We do work with a number of partners to provide the infrastructure and manage operational and deployment matters. For applications, we also collaborate with GetJar to provide our customers with access to long tail applications. But the key work of selecting and positioning applications is something we do ourselves.

Richard: During one of the Satio launches an indication was given that users would be able to run PlayStation games on the phone, is this correct?

Christopher: No. I think this arose out of a misunderstanding about the remote control feature we demonstrated, showing how users can control a PlayStation 3 from Satio (and a number of our phones). So, users can do things such as watch a movie playing on their PlayStation remotely. Games on the Satio will rely on applications written for the phone.

Richard: Given Sony Ericsson’s current performance and the underlying economic climate how has this impacted developer support?

Christopher: Developers have been and still are very important to Sony Ericsson. In many ways we are lucky to have a well established program and to be able to continue supporting developers to a high standard. Having said that, it is clear that developers are looking less to the high profile events we have leveraged in the past. This means we have to figure out new smarter ways of interacting with developers, so the current climate will have some long term benefits because it means we need to be increasingly imaginative in how we work with developers. We are now looking to interact with developers where they go, within their country or on the Internet, using media we may not have considered in the past. It is a constant ‘evolution process’ and we want to walk this path together with the developer community.

Richard: In conclusion, what would you say to developers thinking about developing Symbian applications for Sony Ericsson?

Christopher: Satio is a really awesome device, with a lot of capabilities and features. I don’t think developers have yet had a chance to fully appreciate how unique this device is. Once it hits the market and becomes generally available, I think a lot of people will be very excited. So I would say to developers, come to Developer World and start exploring what Satio is capable of and find out about our to market proposition. Then get ready to build some unique applications and reap the benefits from highly visible exposure in PlayNow arena and the revenue this will generate.