Yahoo’s Next Step In Its Mobile Revival Involves Pitching It To Developers

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We’re just hours from Yahoo’s first-ever mobile developer conference and people are wondering how the event will turn out. What exactly will CEO Marissa Mayer and her team of executives announce and how will it benefit not only developers but advertisers as well? There’s certainly no question that as Yahoo has made a big deal about its mobile advances, it has done so without really putting an emphasis on the developer ecosystem. Over 35 acquisitions have been made in the past couple of years, but certainly if Yahoo is looking to tout its credentials in the space, it needs to do a better job of courting developers to use its services. And that’s probably what Mayer will do in the span of about eight hours.

Evidence of mobile growth

There’s been statements made frequently about Yahoo’s turnaround, with hundreds of millions of monthly active users on the company’s apps. Mayer made perhaps the first such pronouncement during a fireside chat at TechCrunch Disrupt in September 2013 where there were 800 million monthly active users — 350 million were from mobile. Her mission was to refocus the company’s strategy on things that were a part of people’s daily habits, including mail, search, weather, finances, sports, and news. It’s important to note that this statistic at the time did not include any participation from Tumblr.

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Nevertheless, in the past couple of years, Yahoo has started to launch or update some of its apps, including the release of its News Digest, built on top of Summly’s technology, a company it acquired in 2013. Other apps have been updated including its Weather app, Flickr, and its Finance app. I won’t recite Yahoo’s entire app history here, but the point is that the company has been making a concrete effort to make sure that we have all the information we need throughout the day right at our fingertips.

And Mayer’s strategy is slowly working: the acquisition of Tumblr for $1.1 billion is expected to generate more than $100 million in revenue this year, and Yahoo’s mobile ad platform is targeting $1.2 billion in gross revenue too. In last year’s third quarter, mobile revenue finally became “material”, bringing in more than $200 million. That amount increased 23 percent quarter over quarter to $254 million in Q4 2014. At the end of last year, Yahoo announced that it saw gross mobile revenue of $1.26 billion.

Appeal or showcase?

It’s no secret that Yahoo is late to the mobile game and it has much to do to catch up to its competitors like Facebook, Twitter, Google, and Apple. The company seems to have found itself and has set itself on course to become even more relevant, but now it needs to begin renewing its relationships with the people building apps and services that we all are flocking to.

It’s easy to forget about Yahoo’s developer initiatives, but it’s still around. In fact, its developer network provides quite a few options depending on your need. It’ll help you build out your app, enhance it, and monetize it — all including the latest tools at its disposal, including Flurry.

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But while it’s optimistic that Yahoo will use its conference to pitch its vision to developers and encourage them to use its many services, could we perhaps see the company making a strong push to just get developers to tap into its Flurry and BrightRoll offerings so that Yahoo can look better in the eyes of advertisers, thereby showing that Mayer is doing something right by them? What I hope won’t happen is the company framing the conference like it’s some sort of roadshow or a Tupperware party where it just shows off its products and then moves on. Instead, I hope that the conversation will be much more engaging and shows the potential of Yahoo’s offering and why developers should consider it when looking at other services from Facebook, Twitter, and Google.

Two of Yahoo’s biggest acquisitions center around helping apps monetize themselves, so it’s pretty safe to say that this will be a big part of the company’s conference. In fact, looking at the agenda, at least five sessions (not including Mayer’s keynote) out of around ten talks/keynotes center around advertising or analytics.

And then there’s MaVeNS, the acronym created by Mayer last year that focuses on four areas where Yahoo thinks it has a strong offering: mobile, video, native advertising, and social. While the conference may not explicitly address all four, it’s safe to say that discussion around them will be sprinkled throughout the event.

Regardless of its intent, Yahoo needs to be bold in its next steps to rekindle its relationship with developers. It needs to show that it can compete alongside the big players for app attention and that the fruits of all the acquisitions thus far under Mayer’s tenure are actually bearing fruit and are beneficial to the ecosystem.

By Ken Yeung

Ken Yeung is a journalist fascinated with the stories of the tech industry and internet culture. He's currently the Technology Editor at Flipboard, where he observes what's happening in the space while also identifying new topics of interest. In addition, he co-hosts the weekly internet show "The Created Economy," which focuses on what's happening to creators and influencers. Previously, he was a reporter for VentureBeat and The Next Web, covering tech startups, the industry's innovations and funding. Ken also has a newsletter you should also subscribe to called "Filed."