Supporting developers through diversity

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Ulf Wretling is a nineteen year veteran of Ericsson and Sony Ericsson. He headed up Sony Ericsson’s developer program for a number of years and recently has been responsible for setting up the processes to manage third-party application sales through PlayNow arena.


Richard: How has the process of setting up PlayNow arena for third-party applications being going?

Ulf: It has been an interesting project and certainly quite a revelation working through the requirements of so many countries’ tax and commercial law. However, it has been worthwhile, as the store is picking up nicely and we are meeting our goals.

Richard: While Sony Ericsson has provided third-party developers with an outlet for many years, is the move to PlayNow arena indicative of a change in attitude towards third-party developers at Sony Ericsson?

Ulf: Across the company as a whole, there certainly has been quite a change. When we first started supporting third-party developers, through Sony Ericsson Developer World, we really had to push their applications to our device groups. We did a lot of work helping program managers and marketing personnel appreciate what third-party developers could offer and how their applications could benefit device programs or Sony Ericsson as a whole.

Today, we no longer have to ‘sell’ the concept, as we receive regular requests for applications to help enhance a device or product line. So, I think everyone now realises that we can no longer keep up with the market by creating everything in house and that certain innovation and inspiration is always going to come from outside the company.

Richard: That must help to keep staff numbers down in these tough economic times.

Ulf: On the contrary, this extra demand means we are expanding our developer support services head count right now. We have quite a few new people in the organisation. An additional benefit from new people has been new thinking, which is really helping to keep our developer program at the forefront.

Richard: However, I wonder if this increase in staff highlights a challenge for Sony Ericsson, how to ensure what is a relatively small mobile phone manufacturer excels when resources are spread over an ever increasing portfolio of platforms. How is the company rising to this challenge?

Ulf: It may seem a strange thing to say, but our focus is actually less on the underlying technology and more on the user experience. Most consumers have little interest in the specification of their device’s processor or the operating system it runs. What they do care about is the experience: is the device easy and pleasurable to use and does it do the things they want it to.

This change in focus is reflected in our support for the Symbian Foundation and the move away from UIQ. With UIQ we spent a lot of time and money customising the vanilla offering. This was not only costly in it own right, but added further to our costs when we had to apply our changes to the next version and, as you know, that caused us a number of problems.

With the Symbian foundation, while we will continue to contribute to the platform, we are focusing our resources much more on the user experience: Simply taking the core platform as it is, because it contains everything we need.

So we are focusing the majority of our effort at a higher level in the software stack and we are seeing more rewards from this effort.

Richard: Is there a danger that this approach could turn Sony Ericsson into just another ODM?

Ulf: That is why we are focusing on user experience and services. We certainly don’t want to become a company that simply takes an OS and wraps it in metal and plastic. Here at Sony Ericsson we definitely want to strengthen our brand. So it’s about using the best standard component technologies, combined with and complimented by unique Sony Ericsson differentiators.

Our real challenge is finding the right differentiators. It’s not that long ago that adding Bluetooth connectivity, a camera, or a colour screen to a phone made is something special. Now phones have Bluetooth with multiple profiles, many mega pixel cameras and a colour screen is a given.

We are now looking to more subtle ways to improve the user experience, from enabling users to upload to their favourite photo sharing application directly from the camera UI to services such as PlayNow arena. 

So, while the underlying technology was once our differentiator, it is now just the platform on which to build our differentiation by offering users unique Sony Ericsson features and services.

Richard: If the focus is on higher level user experience and services, would this approach be as well served by one platform? What is the justification for the multiple platforms?

Ulf: There are lots of reasons, but fundamentally it’s about matching our portfolio to our customers’ requirements, whether that’s the end consumer, operators, or corporations. For example, many operators have certified certain platforms for use with their services. They then typically want 6 or 8 different phones to offer with that service. So if we want to supply all those phones, to as many operators as possible, we need a diverse portfolio.

For corporate customers the reasons are similar: They may have a mail service they want to use and have tested with particular mobile operating systems.

Ultimately it is our ambition to grow the company and expand beyond our current market share. In order to be really successful in any consumer electronics segment, a company needs a bigger market share than we currently have. A diverse portfolio of platforms is something we need right now to achieve those goals, coupled with the experience we are able to draw on from Sony and Ericsson.

Richard: How does the recently announced WebSDK fit into this picture?

Ulf: We have seen an increasing number of requests from developers asking for support for web based technologies over, I would say, the last 2 years. This is a strong reason why we have released WebSDK. Also a key benefit of web technology is that it offers a high degree of portability between platforms: Enabling developers to easily target as many of our devices as possible is important.

Of course, support for web technology in no way diminishes our support for Java and Flash, but you will see an increasing level of activity from us around web applications in the future.

Richard: How has Sony Ericsson’s new approach changed developer support?

Ulf: Our commitment to the broadest developer community remains unchanged. We believe this strategy is important: To support innovation and ensure developers know Sony Ericsson offers an excellent opportunity for getting their applications to market.

How the change in our focus to user experience has affected developer services can be seen in our Hero Developer program. Hero Developers are those individuals and companies we believe have something unique to offer that enhances the Sony Ericsson experience. So we forge a closer relationship, designed to help the developer integrate their offering seamlessly into a device’s user experience or a Sony Ericsson service.

Part of this is our current Create Now tour, taking our team to fifteen countries to connect directly with our Hero Developers and ensure we are doing everything necessary to help them.

We know that a co-creation approach is stronger and faster than creating everything in-house, so third party developers are a key component of our success. Hopefully, we have updated our developer program to recognise this and, most importantly, ensure we can work with key developers to our mutual benefit.