Apple's iOS and Google's Android are where all the users are, but Windows Phone and BlackBerry may be where the money's at.
It isn't enough to have extensive outreach programs, or even to give out free test devices anymore. With Android and iOS far and away dominant in the market, companies outside of the iOS-Android duopoly need to go the extra mile to lure in developers.
So, of course, it comes down to financial incentives. Microsoft has long paid high-profile developers to port their apps over. Last week, Research in Motion guaranteed developers that they would make $10,000 in their first year, or be compensated by the company directly. While not going so far, Nokia said it would offer developers a business development kit, or the financial equivalent of an SDK.
"Developers feel like a number with (the iOS and Android platforms), but we'll be a partner with them," Richard Kerris, vice president of global developer relations for Nokia, told me last week at the CTIA Wireless show.
The moves highlight the lengths these companies will go to ensure that they have a healthy following of developers. More and more, applications are making and breaking operating systems, and lack of developer support can deal a crippling blow to one's cause. The stakes have never been higher for Microsoft's Windows Phone and RIM's BlackBerry 10, both of which are desperate to rally developers to their standards.
Nokia wants to work with developers in bringing their apps to market. It's not just a matter of giving them code and walking away. The company will provide business education, in-app analytics, and teach them how to make websites, put up videos, and promote their apps. The key is to increase the percentage of developers that make a profit.
"We want to work with developers on a one-on-one basis," Kerris said.
Nokia has been slowly rolling out a BDK to its developer partners over the last few months, and plans to a more extensive expansion of its support over the next few months. The BDK was formed from several conversations with developers, identifying what they needed to have a successful app.
RIM is taking its outreach program even further, guaranteeing developers $10,000 in sales in the first year on the BlackBerry 10 platform. There are, of course, some conditions, including the requirement to make an actual quality app. But for those that qualify, RIM will pay the difference if their app doesn't meet that threshold.
That's a bold move that should get some developers are least curious about the BlackBerry 10 platform. Of course, RIM said it isn't a huge risk, as it claims that most of its apps already make a ton of money.
"We can tell you from our experience that if someone has an app with a good business model, it won't be difficult for them to reach $10,000 in revenue the first year," Christopher Smith, vice president of application platform and tools for RIM, told CNET last week. "The $10,000 guarantee program is more of a statement of confidence to our developers."
In fact, that's been RIM's message for a while. Alec Saunders, vice president of developer relations, has long maintained that BlackBerry World is the second most profitable app store after Apple's App Store.
Even Nokia won't go where RIM is willing to in terms of financial support. The company won't pay for support or even guarantee revenue.
"Writing a check is not the same as working with a developer," Kerris said.
While iOS and Android offer a huge customer base, there are also proportionally way more flops on those platforms. With so many apps, it's difficult to stand out unless you already have an extensive marketing strategy prepared or a track record of great apps. Which might make the fringes of the mobile business a more attractive place to be -- or at least start.
"There is real money to be made here, unlike some of our competitors," Smith said.
CNET senior writer Marguerite Reardon contributed to this story.