T-Mobile’s DevPartner Program Live!

DevPartner Logo
It looks like T-Mobile USA has flipped the switch on their DevParner Community.  The program is designed to streamline the process of getting a mobile application approved and available on the carrier’s soon to launched App Store.   You will need to register as a developer to be able to see the the program’s documents which include detailed requirements for testing and certification and a rate schedule.  Registration is free but if you are a hobbyist or Open Source developer looking to distribute a free application or game through T-Mobile I’m not so sure it’s even worth signing up.

To be sure, the new process is a big improvement over the elaborate dance that developers and publishers have had to do with carriers to get their games and applications on-deck.  T-Mobile promises that the program,  which features a click through online business agreement and application submission form,  will reduce time to market from months to days. Although Dev Partner supports free applications I don’t think it will be very attractive to non-commercial developers for the following:

  • Applications must be tested, verified and signed by True North Services at the developer’s expense.  I could not find any pricing information for this service but I suspect it’s similar to what other testing houses charge for Java Verified testing, which is around $200 per test, per device with discounts for retests and multiple devices.
  • Entry in the program requires a US Employer Identification Number (EIN) which means you are filing US taxes as an employer rather than an individual. That locks out not only most individual developers of free applications but also commercial development houses without US based employees.
  • No advertising – applications may not  include or link to advertising.
  • No games!! That’s right, no games of any kind will be accepted through the DevPartner program.  I really don’t get this one.  Games are popular, generally do not use network resources and would drive traffic to the app store.  Also banned are location based and  financial services. I’m not sure what that means exactly but I suspect its disallowing locating the user with GPS or cell id and  online payment systems rather than a ban on stock tickers and zip code based point of interest lookups. But who knows.
  • Free applications must consume an average of less that 15MB/month/user.  If this limit is exceeded the publisher must pay T-Mobile an usage fee of $2.00 per moth per user!  The usage fee rises to $3.25/user for traffic over 30MB and $4.50/user for 60-100 MB!

For paid applications the pricing model looks like it might be OK for at least some types of programs.  Baseline revenue split is 50% to the publisher but can go to as high as 70% if the following criteria are met.

  • A extra 5% for supporting  (and being certified on) 10 or more devices including two of the 33 most popular T-Mobile phones.
  • A 5% bonus if the publisher provides phone and online or email support and responds to support requests within 24 hours.
  • A 5% bonus for accepting responsibility for responding to customer problems with network connectivity. Additionally, if your application provides user generated content you must also provide 24×7 monitoring and filtering for inappropriate content to be eligible for the 5%
  • A 5% bonus for meeting certain additional “best practices” requirements for error handling and reporting.
  • Even the 50% is not guaranteed.  T-Mobile can reduce it if usage fees calculated at $0.20 to $4.50 per user per month depending on traffic exceed the revenue due you under the 50-70% split. There is also an excessive refund fee.  If your application has a refund rate exceeding 5%, T-Mobile will charge you $20.00 each for all of the refunds.

So while DevPartner is probably better than previous US carrier partnership deals it’s a far cry from Apple’s iPhone program which costs $99/year including all testing and certification and gives back a flat 70% of revenue to the publisher. The DevPartner program currently seems to be focused on Java ME development only.  On the “Getting Started” web page it does say you can submit Java or .cab (Windows Mobile) files,  but in the detailed “Mobile Application Handbook” their is a requirement that all applications must be Java ME MIDP2.

The DevPartner program also does not cover Android applications.  Android will have it’s own T-Mobile App Store and probably a separate developer program.  I wonder if T-Mobile will try to enforce signing and certification requirements for Android apps?  Google has been quite clear that Android security will not be based on application signing. That was reiterated at yesterday’s Mobilize conference in San Francisco, where Rich Miner from the Android team mentioned the difficulties of the app signing model posses for small developers and consumers as one of the problems Android would solve.  Rich called the current model “fundamentally broken” and said that device testing and signing was a problem even for Google, specifically mentioning how it was impossible to give Google Maps address book integration using Java ME on most phones.

It will be interesting to see what impact Android has on T-Mobile’s attitude toward signing and certification for non-Android applications.  Will they perpetuate a dual standard, loosen up Java requirements or enforce signing on Android developer contrary to the Google party line?

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