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You finally put the finishing touches on your new J2ME application and are probably starting to think about what is involved in marketing and distributing your killer app. It is at this point that, all too often, great ideas are left as nothing more than great ideas.

For many technical gurus, crossing the chasm from a finished application to an application that is distributed to people around the world involves the work of business professionals and marketing experts. For J2ME developers, however, getting this process underway is not only an attainable goal but also an exciting and rewarding journey that can begin immediately. From concept to consumer, this article will explain all that is involved in getting your application certified and distributed by the world's largest J2ME distributors.

I decided to focus on three popular distribution channels in this article: Nextel and Motorola's iDEN, Cingular Wireless, and Handango.com. I chose these channels because they are currently leading the marketplace in J2ME application distribution, and because each has a unique approach to working with developers. In addition, I recently went through the distribution process with each of these services and can therefore provide an accurate, informed portrayal of the steps involved. This article will begin with an overview of some general practices that are important when preparing your application for distribution. I'll then discuss, in detail, the procedure for partnering with the previously mentioned channels.

Preparing to Launch
Before you can begin working with the major carriers, you'll want to determine which distributors provide mobile devices that your J2ME application can run on. Although J2ME was designed to make use of the "write once, run anywhere" methodology, design decisions you have already made could influence whether or not your application can be distributed through certain carriers. Using device-specific APIs or custom canvases that will only appear correctly on a certain screen size or resolution could affect your marketing ability. The size of your application could also affect who will distribute your application. If your application was developed using standard J2ME and the included user interfaces, your application will likely be marketable to all of the major distribution streams with little or no changes needed.

If you determined that your application is not specific to a certain mobile device, you'll want to obtain emulators from as many different carriers as possible to test your program. Although Sun's Wireless Toolkit (WTK) provides a good starting point for testing, you will notice different display characteristics and performance issues when using manufacturer-specific emulators. A closer look at recommended testing for different distribution channels will be discussed in the following sections. In addition to developer testing, it's always a good idea to have family, friends, and business associates test your application. As the developer, it is often difficult to prepare for usage scenarios that occur when consumers use your product. You'll be surprised how much information can come from this type of testing.

What You'll Need
There are several items you'll want to have ready to go before you start contacting possible distributors. You'll find that these items are common requirements among most distribution channels and you'll save time and energy by preparing this information ahead of time.

Product Descriptions
The first and most important piece of information you'll want to prepare is a "long description" of your product. This description can often be used to market your application to different distribution channels and to provide the product information to consumers. Your description should tell consumers how they can benefit from your product and also provide an overview of the application's functionality. It's also good practice to include a link to your company's Web site or product site where a consumer can find more detailed information.

In addition to this "long description," you'll want to create a 2-3 line "short description" that's both catchy and informative. This is the description that will appear next to the link for your product in the distributor's application catalog.

Product Pictures
When consumers visit your product's page in a content catalog, they'll first see an application screenshot or other product image representing your J2ME application. Nextel/Motorola iDEN require a single screenshot while Cingular Wireless and Handango.com allow multiple images or an animated gif image that could portray several different screenshots or usage scenarios.

User Manual
A product user manual, illustrated in Figure 1, is only required by a few distribution channels, but you'll find that posting a user manual on your Web site can be a helpful resource for consumers. Most MIDlets are very simple and should be self-explanatory; however, since a user manual is a requirement for some carriers, such as Nextel and Motorola, and can provide a thorough explanation of your product to consumers, you'll want to prepare this before distributing.

Figure 1

A good user manual should provide a sufficient number of screenshots that illustrate the directions. The program space (how much program space the application will need after installation) and data space (space used by resource files or persistent storage entered by the user) requirements for the handset should also be included.

Web Site
Though this is not a requirement for distribution, the previously mentioned materials alone could be sufficient for a Web site. All of the distribution channels will allow you to link to your company or product Web site from the product page that consumers view before purchasing your application. A company or product Web site (see Figure 2) is a good tool for explaining your content in more detail and showing additional product images. It's important to clarify which phones and service providers your product is compatible with. It is also a good idea to provide direct links to the distributor's Web site where your product can be downloaded or purchased.

Figure 2

Distributing Through Nextel/Motorola iDEN Update
If you wanted to get your application downloaded by as many consumers as possible and could focus on only one distribution stream, Nextel and Motorola's iDEN Update would be the one to target. Nextel and Motorola pioneered J2ME distribution with their iDEN Update program and continue to attract a large number of consumers to their product catalog. The process of getting your application certified and distributed through iDEN (see Figure 3) is the most rigorous and time-consuming of those that I've seen to date. If you're able to get your product into the iDEN catalog, however, this process will have been well worth your while as this distribution stream will likely account for a large part of your product's purchase activity.

Figure 3

Testing
For distribution through Nextel and Motorola's iDEN Update, you should use the "Motorola iDEN SDK for J2ME Technology," which is available at http://idenphones.motorola.com/iden/developer/developer_home.jsp. This SDK provides emulation, project management, and JAR/JAD packaging for the iDEN J2ME products. This tool is free after registering as a developer with iDEN Update and contains the iDEN J2ME extensions and emulator skins for the i85s, i90c, i95cl, and i88s (a GPS) phones.

It's also possible to test your application on an actual Motorola iDEN phone using a USB or serial data cable that can be purchased from any Nextel store or from Nextel's Web site, and an application loader provided through Nextel's developer portal. If your application does not make use of any network services, you'll want to use the JALLite application to transfer your MIDlet from your computer to your handset. For applications that are network-aware, you must first obtain permission from Motorola by describing the application you'll be testing. Motorola will then provide a login and password to use with their WebJAL application. This application allows developers to load an unlimited number of programs that make network connections to a maximum of five iDEN handsets.

Each major wireless carrier will put your application through a series of testing scenarios before approving it for consumer sales. For inclusion in the iDEN Update catalog, a list of user interface compliance and consistency requirements can be found in the "Nextel/Motorola Wireless Certification Program" document that's available through Nextel's developer portal. These requirements focus on user interface consistency, product functionality, usability, and the required user manual. In addition, applications will undergo stress tests that focus on memory constraints and inappropriate behavior scenarios.

Working with a Publisher
A relatively new but widely growing component of the J2ME marketing and distribution process is the application publisher. Publishers have a unique relationship with the developer and the distribution channel that often varies between different carriers. The publisher acts as the developer's agent or liaison throughout the certification process and continues in this role after the application goes live to consumers. In the case of Nextel and Motorola's iDEN catalog, the publisher has several important responsibilities, including providing legal agreements and distribution contracts, testing and certifying an application, handling all communication between the developer and wireless carrier, providing sales reports and product statistics, and delivering royalty payments to the developer.

You'll find that there are both advantages and drawbacks when working with a publisher. Working with a publisher often provides a better channel for communication in which you can receive quick responses to basic questions. Although publishers often provide a range of services to a large number of customers, they can dedicate more time to your needs than a major carrier could. Unfortunately, working with a publisher can also result in increased delays since all requests targeted at the distribution channel must go through your publisher.

Nextel and Motorola currently allow developers to choose between three publishers when developing J2ME content for their iDEN catalog. The publishers - MicroJava, TiraWireless, and PopSoft - all accept open submissions and are well versed in the procedural, technical, and legal requirements involved in distributing applications through iDEN. You'll want to contact each publisher with regards to their publishing services before choosing one. It's important to determine the time it takes for testing and the royalty percentage you'll receive as this varies for different publishers.

The Certification Process
The following events provide a detailed overview of the certification process that occurred with one of the above publishers. Depending on the publisher you work with, you may experience slight variations in the process.

Once you have selected a publisher, your first step is to send them a detailed product description, screenshots, and/or a user manual. The publisher will conduct a trademark search on the name and then determine if your application is in line with the content Nextel and Motorola are looking to distribute. The trademark search simply verifies that you are not violating any existing trademarks with your product name.

If the application idea and name are approved, you'll be asked to fill out a product submission form. This form will ask for detailed company and product information including file sizes, model compatibility, pricing, and descriptions to be used on the iDEN site. Much of the information from this form will be transferred directly to the iDEN Web site so you'll want to review it before submitting. This form is then sent to the publisher along with the application JAR/JAD files and user manual.

In addition to the product submission form, a traffic flow template is required when certifying any application that involves sending data over the carrier's network. This template must include a diagram illustrating the flow of data over the network and the size of the data being transferred. It must also include a brief paragraph describing the application's networked components and functionality. Nextel requires this information so they can determine the cost of using the application and the amount of time this functionality will take on the handset and on the network.

At this point your publisher will begin testing your application to determine if its functionality and usability are in conjunction with iDEN style guidelines. This process usually takes anywhere from 1-4 weeks. It's important to note that publishers can only submit tested applications to iDEN on the first of each month. If an app finishes testing on the second day of the month, it won't be delivered to Nextel and Motorola until the first of the next month.

While the application is going through its testing phase, the developer will receive a Software Distribution Agreement (SDA) detailing the terms of the distribution contract with your publisher. The SDA includes the obligation and rights of the developer and the publisher, royalty payment information, and other legal guidelines.

Once the SDA is agreed upon and your publisher finishes testing, the application is sent to Motorola for a final review. When this is completed, you'll receive a detailed "Applications Validation and Verification Performance Test Plan and Results Document" from Nextel. This document includes a thorough analysis of the tests conducted during the certification process. After this review, which usually takes 2-4 weeks, your publisher will notify you that your application has "gone live" and is available to consumers.

Going Live to Consumers
If your application has made it this far, you can finally sit back and relax. As outlined in the SDA, however, you are still responsible for providing technical support and bug fixes for your application. The current iDEN system does not give developers access to their product's purchase statistics. This aspect of the iDEN system is currently being upgraded to support such functionality, but in the meantime you'll need to contact your publisher for this information. You can expect to receive royalty payments every three months. Some publishers, however, will not send your first payment until the application has been live for four months. Royalty payments vary from publisher to publisher but generally developers receive 50-70% of each purchase. For many distributors this percentage is calculated after a small payment processing fee is deducted.

Distributing Through Cingular Wireless
Cingular Wireless is another major carrier that provides J2ME content to its customers. Currently, Cellmania, Inc., distributes much of the Cingular Wireless J2ME software. Cellmania powers the Cingular Wireless Software Store that allows Cingular customers to purchase wireless applications through a mobile or desktop portal. Many consumers find content that they want for their phone, from their phone. Cellmania makes this possible and a large portion of their sales originate from handsets. The distribution system provided by Cellmania is very developer friendly and the Cellmania team maintains exceptional relations with those distributing content through their portal.

Testing For deployment on Cingular Wireless phones, you'll want to use a combination of Motorola, Nokia, and Ericsson SDKs. A full line of Nokia SDKs can be downloaded from http://alliance.cingularinteractive.com/dev/cda/home and the SDK for non-iDEN Motorola phones is available at www.motocoder.com. For testing with Ericsson phones, download the "Sony Ericsson J2ME SDK" from http://www.ericsson.com/mobilityworld/sub/open/index.html.

Working with Cellmania
Cellmania provides a complete solution for mobile operators to provision and sell J2ME applications through its J2ME mFinder portal. This portal is currently one of the main distribution channels used by Cingular Wireless for J2ME applications. Because of this partnership, developers deal directly with Cellmania when certifying an application for Cingular Wireless.

The Cellmania Developer portal is where your certification process begins. Developers must first register with Cellmania by filling out an online form that includes basic contact information.

After registering with Cellmania, a developer must log in to his or her account and fill out the application information form. This online form includes the application description, location of JAR and JAD files, and pricing information. Cellmania's SDA can be accessed via a link from this form titled "Terms of Service." This agreement outlines many important details, including revenue-sharing information and minimum application criteria. Some of the criteria are originality of content, usability, functionality, usefulness, and robustness of content.

As the developer you are responsible for hosting any images that occur on your Cingular/Cellmania product page. You'll need to send the HTML code with image links to a representative at Cellmania if you would like to include such content.

After submitting your application, Cellmania editors will test the application based on the above criteria. This testing phase usually is completed within a couple of weeks and consists of an automated verifier for Java and a multipoint manual certification. Upon successful completion of this testing phase, the application will become part of the mFinder directory.

Going Live to Consumers
Cellmania's mFinder directory is available through several different carriers throughout the world. Once in the mFinder directory, information about your application can be viewed from any of these sources; however, J2ME content can only be purchased through the Cingular portal at this time.

As the developer, you can view the number of purchases, purchase dates, and royalty details through the Cellmania Developer Portal. Royalty payments for the developer are remitted within 30 days after Cellmania receives the fees for a purchase.

Any modifications to your product page in the mFinder directory or to your application can be made by contacting a member of the Cellmania staff. Content updates usually occur within a week and you can ask to be notified once your update has been processed.

Distributing Through Handango.com
Handango is not a major wireless carrier or a global phone manufacturer, yet they currently have the largest catalog of J2ME content and are well worth mentioning as a powerful distribution channel. J2ME software in Handango's main product catalog can be distributed to AT&T Wireless, Cingular, and T-Mobile customers. Handango also offers "value-added" channels, such as Nokia's Software Market and the SprintPCS Software Store, that select applications can be featured in.

The process for including applications in Handango's catalog is a lot different than the previous two distribution streams discussed. Unlike most other distribution channels, Handango does not certify content before it's included in their main product catalog. Any individual or company with a J2ME application can make their product available through Handango.com in a matter of hours. The developer handles the majority of the setup process that occurs prior to distribution. This includes testing the application, loading the JAR/JAD files onto the server, and preparing the product page that appears in Handango's catalog. All customer and payment-related issues, however, are handled by Handango.

Launching Your Application
To begin distributing your J2ME application, you must first register with the Handango Software Partner Program by filling out a brief online form. After logging in as a developer, review Handango's SDA for details pertaining to payment information and distribution terms. If you agree to this SDA, you can immediately begin loading your product into the Handango catalog by selecting the "Add a Product" link from the developer portal.

At this point you'll be walked through a series of online forms that focus on your product description, software category selection, compatible devices, file information, and product images. You'll also have the opportunity to include a trial version of your application. Handango offers several product registration models for use with J2ME software.

After completing the required product submission forms and uploading your application's JAR and JAD files, your application will appear almost immediately in the Handango catalog.

Once your application has gone live to consumers, developers can modify their product information or application files at anytime. You can also set up your Handango account to e-mail you each time a customer purchases your product and access detailed purchase statistics via Handango's developer portal. Handango is one of the few distribution streams that provides the developer with the customer's name, location, and contact information after he or she purchases an application. Royalty payments are sent out within 30 days after the close of any month in which Handango receives full payment from a customer. It's important to note that the number of downloads and number of purchases for your product often vary as consumers can download an application multiple times if they experience technical difficulty during the installation process.

Conclusion
The distribution streams discussed in this article are just a few of the many channels available to J2ME developers. In addition to targeting these distributors, developers should look into other marketing strategies that are outside the scope of this article but could assist in driving customers to the channels where your products are available.

With a market size of nearly $6 billion in 2002 and an expected growth to over $18 billion by 2006, the demand for cellphone content is beginning to soar. The development and distribution of J2ME software involves a new and exciting field of technology with tremendous growth potential and the opportunity for revolutionary software ideas to emerge. Whether you're a professional software developer or just interested in J2ME as a hobby, you have the ability to become a part of this revolution as you take your idea from concept to consumer and enjoy the many benefits of having a product available to consumers around the world.

References

  • Nextel Motorola iDEN Update: www.idenupdate.com
  • IDEN Developer Community: http://idenphones.motorola.com/iden/developer/developer_home.jsp
  • Nextel's Developer Portal: http://developer.nextel.com/portal/index.jsp
  • Cingular Wireless Software Store: http://cingular.cellmania.com/web/home.jsp
  • Cellmania, Inc.: www.cellmania.com
  • Cellmania Developer portal: http://cingulardeveloper.cellmania.com/html/devlogin.jsp
  • Handango Software Downloads: www.handango.com

    About The Author
    Greg Schwartz is the founder and CEO of Mobatech LLC. He developed the Mobile Checkbook and Mobile Checkbook Pro personal banking applications. The Mobile Checkbook J2ME software is currently distributed by major carriers including Nextel and Cingular Wireless. Greg holds a BSE in computer science from the University of Michigan's College of Engineering. [email protected]

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