Q&A: Flurry, T-Mobile push boundaries on carrier-developer collaboration

Flurry, a company that provides analytics for mobile applications, and T-Mobile have teamed up to release a free analytics platform for the T-Mobile development community focusing on Android, BlackBerry and J2ME. With even more app usage data, T-Mobile will be able to improve its retail strategy and help its customers discover new apps.

On the other side of the coin, developers will be able to use the data to improve the applications they create. T-Mobile is also about to announce application-related partnerships with advertising providers, enabling the ad-supported app model — also an industry first. The free ad-supported iPhone and Android apps are actually proving to be a hit with customers.

To dig deeper into these issues, we interviewed Venetia Espinoza, director mobile applications and partner programs, on innovation around content discovery and the carriers’ changing relationship with developers.

VentureBeat: Venetia, once you re-launch your developer portal, you will offer a wider range of tools to developers. One of them is Flurry. Can you name all the tools, explain what they are and also say why a carrier like T-Mobile is integrating them? Developer programs like the T-Mobile Partner Network have been around for a while, why this extra effort from T-Mobile?

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Venetia Espinoza: For our latest refresh of our developer site, we are adding : analytics and advertising. These service provider partnerships are in addition to our existing testing and certification partners. Going forward, Partner Network Partners will be able to utilize Flurry Analytics for access to deep data reporting on application usage. They will also be able to work with AdMarvel, AdMax and Quattro Wireless as a resource for implementing ad-based business models. The Partner Network web site continues to provide support for testing and certification with select service providers, True North Services, InfoStretch and Device Anywhere.

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VB: The addition is significant — to my best knowledge no carrier so far has support the ad-based app business model. We all know it is mostly the free ad-supported iPhone and Android apps that top the download rankings. With T-Mobile, developers were previously able to submit free applications to the Partner Network — they were not able to put advertising on them.

VE: Right. The move to partner with mobile ad services is in conjunction with a major change to the Partner Network Program, which is to allow applications coming through the Partner Network for placement in our on-deck web2go portal to employ ad based business models, something that we had previously not allowed. There has also been an enhancement to our testing and certification process, which is to implement a discounted pricing model for testing when developers focus on our list of “Spotlight Devices.” These are devices that we are encouraging developers to focus their application development efforts towards in order to offer a large catalog to our subscribers. T-Mobile’s decision to partner with mobile application service providers is key to the Go-To-Market focus of the Partner Network web site and program. We feel that connecting our application development partners with service providers is one of the many ways that T-Mobile sits as a key central piece of the mobile application value chain. The other part of the equation is to then connect those mobile applications to our subscribers to drive revenue for our application development partners.

VB: Can you explain how these tools will be integrated and how developers will be able to find them ? Are there any terms of use developers need to sign?

VE: Partner Network Partners can find a listing of all our service providers in the “Develop” section of the Partner Network web site. There is a listing of each provider per category with a description of the service provided and any discounts provided. Partners will need to be registered through the Partner Network so that each service provider can ensure they are working with T-Mobile Partner Network Partners.

VB: Among the data Flurry will generate for you are the following: How apps are consumed on-deck and off-deck; in how many sessions the apps are used and with what frequency; who the most active users are; apps usage on particular devices. Which of these is data you have not been able to generate, yet? How do you want to apply insights from this data into your work?

VE: One of the services T-Mobile has not provided to our application development partners in the past is deep analytics reporting. By partnering with Flurry, we are able to now help our partners get the information they need to make smart decisions for both application improvements and related business models. For T-Mobile, by having an aggregate view of that usage data we will also be able to note trends in application usage as well as categories of applications that are growing and should be considered for promotion and placement.

VB: Let’s look at the big picture of mobile content discovery for a while and then be specific on what the differences may come with Flurry Analytics going forward. In Q3 2007 mobile content in the U.S. was a $5.5 billion business for carriers. 55 percent of this revenue came from messaging, 25 percent came from the mobile internet and 20 percent (mostly ringtone) downloads. Below, I’ve got a slide showing the top application titles in Q3 2007, based on revenue share. Back then, it was characteristic for these rankings to stay pretty much the same from quarter to quarter. The product managers in charge of mobile content were rarely changing the listings in the respective carrier portals.
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Now, by the end of 2008, the mobile content revenue grew to $7.9 billion and will probably be over $10 billion by the end of this year. And now you are saying that with this data you will be able to see usage trends, and that this will influence your insight on promotion and placement. To be more specific, Peter Farago from Flurry believes that this data will help you with store merchandising and app discovery. Do you agree with him, and if you do, can you explain how?

VE: We believe there is both an art and a science to store merchandising and app discovery. Flurry can greatly help with the science piece by giving us data to confirm application categories and types that are driving high numbers of downloads and usage across our subscriber base. T-Mobile feels that we can play an important part in helping our customers navigate the growing number of applications available in order to find and buy the ones that will best meet their needs while on the go.

VB: Based on these Flurry insights, will you push app marketing towards customers? For example, if I am a G1 customer, will you start recommending apps to me based on my app usage via an email newsletter?

VE: As mentioned above, the ability to help subscribers find the apps that make the most sense for them, and will provide the greatest enhancements to their devices. The ability to recommend applications by category and interest is definitely something T-Mobile wants to continue refining, and the ability to recommend by device would be an ideal addition to those efforts.

VB: Similarly, Flurry will enable you to better differentiate among developer segments. What are your goals with your developer program? With how many developers do you want to directly work with? Are there any developer segments you are particularly interested in? 

VE: While we don’t really have a number, we really want to focus on developers who are making quality, innovative applications in key areas that our customers are interested in. We’re doing a lot of analysis to assess what core applications our customers want or are purchasing. In addition, we’re coordinating internally for key devices that may benefit from applications based on key features. As an example, the Samsung Behold is a great device for photo sharing applications, or social network applications, where another device may be more suited for messaging types of applications. There’s a lot of other device/application integration that we hope to facilitate.

VB: The MyTouch was such a key device. In a conversation at the launch event, T-Mobile’s CTO Cole Brodman told me that going forward TMO will seek exclusive relationships with developers just like you did with Geodelic/Sherpa. Will you use the Flurry data to pro-actively target developers for such relationships?

VE: Knowing that there are quality mobile application development companies who are driving innovation for our devices and customers is important for T-Mobile when making decisions about with whom to partner. There are many reasons to choose an application to feature or a partner to develop an exclusive relationships with, and having solid data to indicate how an application is performing and being used is always helpful.

VB: At the MyTouch launch, you gave prominent exposure to Geodelic/Sherpa. The TMO product marketing manager in charge told me that he got emails from 400 developers the following week asking how they can get pre-loaded on the next Android device. How do you handle emails like that now?

VE: Although we do a great deal of outreach to mobile application developers for partnerships, we also recognize the importance of having a vehicle for developers to reach out to T-Mobile as well. With that in mind, we will be making changes to the Partner Network web site in the near future that will facilitate that goal. We promise to follow up with you when that feature is live so that you can help us spread the word!

VB: When I compare the U.S. carriers, to my best knowledge none of Verizon, AT&T or Sprint is systematically improving their online properties — including app stores — yet (no A/B testing etc). Is this, to your best knowledge, a unique effort for a carrier? Going forward, will you be better able to continuously improve app ROI for developers?

VE: While we can’t comment on what other carriers are doing, we can say that T-Mobile is committed to helping our application developer partners succeed in the market. Anything we can do to help them reach the largest audience for the greatest ROI is also in our best interest, as we feel that customer satisfaction is also tied to satisfaction with the devices and services they can get through T-Mobile and our partners.


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