This article by John Walter comes to you from the DZone Guide to Developer Programs. For more information—including in-depth articles from industry experts, profiles over 40 developer programs, and more—click the link below to download your free copy of the guide.
It’s never been easier to be a developer. With nearly limitless access to developer-centric blogs, communities, and open source repositories, the internet has enabled countless new ways to learn and grow your craft. For some developers, these resources are all that is necessary to be successful.
Developer programs have become a mainstay in this new educational landscape. They provide unparalleled benefits to their members. The most frequent benefit is the time-saving integration with immediate access to an API, and any changes that may come to it. For enterprises and individuals alike, membership to developer programs can be required just to release your app. And while some may join programs simply to have access to their marketplace or to an API or SDK, there are many more benefits that shouldn’t be overlooked.
Before you decide what program you should join, it’s important to understand the distinction between the major types of developer programs and their unique benefits. Let’s take a look at the four major developer program types and their benefits.
Barrier to Entry: Low
App Types: General Computing, all-purpose
Examples: Apple’s iOS, Google Android, Windows Phone, BlackBerry, and Amazon Fire
- Most profitable type of program
- Full SDKs and development environments provided
- Detailed documentation for device and OS APIs
- Massive worldwide communities
- Well-managed, well-designed app marketplaces
These types of development programs are known for their massive, worldwide reach and brand recognition, because they are all connected to a popular mobile device platform. They all have a plethora of tools and resources within the program and in the developer communities outside of the programs. The types of applications that you can build on these platforms are almost unlimited, since each of the platforms work mainly on general computing devices that can install a variety of apps just like a PC.
The platform is easy for indie developers or enterprises to start using, and the benefits almost exclusively lie in building applications for direct monetization in the a marketplace built by the company that runs the program. A membership fee is usually required to publish your app, but any cost of admission is undoubtedly worth it, since the benefits are vast.
Apple’s developer program will cost you $99 as an individual member, but afterwards you’re immediately granted access to the iOS SDK. You’re also able to test your app on up to 100 registered devices, as opposed to solely within Xcode.
However, the biggest benefit is the massive consumer reach of Apple’s App Store. If your app finds its way onto any number of featured lists or popularity lists in that marketplace, the implications for your profit margins are enormous.
Apple also has an enormous developer resource, dubbed the Dev Center. Filled with thousands of videos, documentation, and resources, the Dev Center gives members access to best practices, up-to-the-minute news on updates, and Q&As with experts.
Google’s Android developer program, which differs from some other programs in this category by being open source, stresses the value of community. They provide forums for members where they can get feedback and advice. They also provide opportunities for peer review, and for having your app showcased within the program. The rest of the resources and benefits in the Android developer program are on par with Apple’s resources, just as you would expect from a world-class technology firm like Google.
Programs for Amazon Fire, Microsoft Windows, and BlackBerry are also worth a close look since they are focused on catching the frontrunners Google and Apple by providing special deals and extra benefits for developers.
ISV Partner Programs
Barrier to Entry: High
App Types: Niche
Examples: Cisco, VMWare, IBM
- Higher level of investment and expertise for customizations, so higher quality is expected
- Strong relationship is built with program provider for better support
- Association with program provider’s brand can uplift your own company
These programs are often connected to a well-established company in the IT industry that sells a wide range of products and has created a standardized ecosystem, usually spanning hardware and software solutions. Cisco, for instance, has a wide set of networking products, and their developer program is focused on integrating these products with new software written by members of their program. Typically, members of these programs are not individuals, but entire organizations that are already invested in the ecosystem. There is usually a high degree of technical familiarity with the ecosystem that is required before an organization can be effective in these programs.
ISV Partner Programs are much more focused than Mobile Monsters, which are general computing platforms. As the name suggests, these are programs that require a deeper level of organizational partnership with the company running the program, but that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s very difficult to join one. Members of these programs are provided with an API (or a set of APIs) to help them produce new apps within the network and enhance established functionality.
Cisco’s Developer Network, as I mentioned, is a terrific example of this program type. Much like Apple’s program, Cisco is able to provide a wide array of support and feedback to members of their community. But unlike Apple, Cisco’s program is focused only on growing the technology in their own established ecosystem. Their program is seen as a resource first, as opposed to a means to monetize your app. The member ISVs benefit because they can customize the software in their Cisco products that they already use.
Niche Product Platform
Barrier to Entry: Medium
App Types: Niche
Examples: Ford, Nest
- Relatively low barrier to entry compared to ISV partner programs
- Often smaller, more tightly-knit communities
- Better chance of getting your work noticed in the community
Like the ISV Partner Program type, Niche Product Platform programs are focused on platforms that aren’t relevant to the majority of IT organizations or individual developers. The difference is a lower barrier to entry and a program that’s also open to individual developers. Also, the program providers usually don’t have widely established products like the ISV Partner Programs do. The Niche Product programs are more active in engaging developers to build customizations in their product’s ecosystem.
The most likely reason for a developer to join this type of program is because of their interest and ownership of a product that has a development platform. Through joining that program, they can customize the software for their own product.
Ford’s developer program is a great example of the Niche Product program. Given the flexibility of apps for their cars, Ford has released an API so that developers can build their own custom apps. Ford’s hope is that creative, invested developers will create new, relevant applications that will enhance the in-car experience for all customers. They provide minimal direction, but they have an active community and are focused on promoting successful apps within their App Catalog.
Many of these programs can’t fully flourish without the creativity and additional efforts provided by these external developers. Which means that the benefits offered by Niche Product programs are usually lucrative, and you often have a better chance of getting noticed because there is a smaller community.
Drop-in API Programs
Barrier to Entry: Very Low
App Types: General Computing, All-Purpose
Examples: GitHub, Firebase, SoundCloud, Kodak
- Almost no barrier to entry
- Simple, straightforward use case and resources
- Provides benefits for your software and ecosystem, not just the vendor’s
Sometimes these programs are just called API programs because they usually supply just an API, and often don’t even require enrollment. They also offer documentation and other resources for using the API, because their goal is for you to consider integrating their systems and technologies into the apps you are developing. This helps promote their own software in the hopes of making it ubiquitous. API programs also end up being the easiest types of programs to join because of these traits.
For example, Kodak’s developer program gives users access to their API in order to harness the Kodak software ecosystem. Imagine you’re creating a photography app. A developer could use Kodak’s API to build a feature in their app that allows users to send photos to any major retailer’s print center. All you have to do is register with their program and you get access to that network, and your app seamlessly integrates with it.
Social networks are especially eager to promote their APIs; their entire purpose is to connect people’s data through as many applications as possible, and to connect people in as many settings as possible. That’s why many of them have built their own authorization APIs: once a developer builds the network’s authentication into their application, users can reuse the login for easy access and share data between applications.
So, Why Should You Be Using a Developer Program?
It’s important to not overlook the general benefits that apply to all types of developer programs, whether it’s access to a community of individuals working towards the same goal, or immediate updates to an API. Some programs offer huge networks for developers to collaborate through forums and meet-ups, or get support from fellow practitioners. Many programs besides just the Mobile Moneymakers offer developers the avenue to showcase their hard work. Technical support is often provided by programs and can save valuable time and money for their members. Sometimes, the biggest benefit is the backing of a major company to help you monetize your app, or to improve upon an existing framework you’re already passionate about.
Whether it’s the resources, the support, or the community, developer programs are able to provide something developers just can’t get anywhere else. Ultimately, whatever your reasons, joining a developer program just might be the best decision you make in your career.