I’m waiting for Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer to speak at the London School of Economics, which seems a good moment to reflect on his well-known war cry “Developers Developers Developers”.
Behind the phrase is a theory about how to make your platform succeed. The logic is something like this. Successful platforms have lots of applications, and applications are created by developers. If you make your platform appealing to developers, they will build applications which users will want to run, therefore your platform will win in the market.
Today though we have an interesting case study – Apple’s iPhone. The iPhone has lots of apps and is winning in the market, but not because Apple made it appealing to developers. In fact, Apple put down some roadblocks for developers. The official SDK has one programming language, Objective C, which is not particularly easy to use, and unlikely to be known other than by existing Apple platform developers. Apps can only be distributed through Apple’s store, and you have to pay a fee as well as submit to an uncertain approval process to get your apps out there. Some aspects of iPhone (and iPad) development have improved since its first launch. A clause in the developer agreement forbidding use of languages other than Objective C was introduced and then removed, and the criteria for approval have been clearly stated. Nevertheless, the platform was already successful. It is hard to argue that the iPhone has prospered thanks to Apple’s developer-friendly policies.
Rather, the iPhone succeeded because its design made it appealing to users and customers. Developers went there because Apple created a ready market for their applications. If Apple CEO Steve Jobs were prone to shouting words in triplicate, they might be “Design Design Design” or “Usability usability usability”. And as for developers, what they want is “Customers customers customers.”
Well, there are vicious and virtuous circles here. Clearly it pays, in general, to make it easy for developers to target your platform. Equally, it is not enough.
Microsoft’s own behaviour shows a shift in focus towards winning customers through usability, thanks no doubt to Apple’s influence and competition. Windows 7 and Windows Phone 7 demonstrate that. Windows Phone 7 is relatively developer-friendly, particularly for .NET developers, since applications are built on Silverlight, XNA and the .NET Framework. If it succeeds though, it will be more because of its appeal to users than to developers.
What do developers want? Customers customers customers.