Yahoo has reasons of its own to help mobile developers

Yahoo, one of Silicon Valley’s aging giants, wants to show it’s got the goods for today’s mobile app developers.

On Thursday, the company will hold its first-ever mobile developer conference. The daylong event in San Francisco shows the company wants to develop lucrative relationships with developers and put mobile at the center of its turnaround effort.

The event will feature talks by top Yahoo executives, including CEO Marissa Mayer, and deep dives into Yahoo’s technology services for mobile apps. A critical part of those services is Flurry, a mobile analytics and advertising company Yahoo acquired last year. Flurry tracks more than 600,000 apps worldwide, providing information on app performance and users that can aid in ad targeting.

Yahoo needs that data to kickstart its sluggish ad business, especially on mobile devices.

During the show, Yahoo executives will try to sell third-party developers on the value of using Flurry. They will also promote Yahoo Gemini, the company’s platform for mobile advertising, and BrightRoll, a digital video advertising platform the company also acquired last year.

It’s a multi-pronged strategy, and the pieces are still coming together. But by encouraging more outside developers to use Yahoo’s services, Yahoo hopes to gain valuable information about how people use mobile apps.

That information could help Yahoo do its job. “We can help advertisers find the right audience they’re looking for, target the ads they want to target, using strong data from Yahoo, and find users wherever they are, on or off Yahoo,” Mayer said last week during the Goldman Sachs Technology and Internet Conference in San Francisco.

And if Yahoo can freshen its appeal to outside software developers and build new partnerships with them, then all the better.

“Yahoo is working on their own apps, but they will be able to extend their reach and their advertising inventory by getting outside developers into the fold,” said Karsten Weide, an industry analyst at IDC who studies consumer apps and platforms.

Plus, if an outside developer comes up with something super cool in the process, maybe Yahoo can acquire them, he said.

To put it another way, Yahoo’s mobile developer conference could play an important role in the company’s app development efforts. Since Mayer took the helm in 2012, Yahoo has been rebuilding its mobile products as part of her turnaround effort to focus on people’s “daily habits.” But so far, Yahoo has not released a breakout app that everyone wants to download, perhaps with the exception of its new Weather app.

In mobile advertising, Yahoo does seem to be making gains. The company reported in the third quarter of last year that its mobile ad revenue was “now material,” at more than US$200 million. That’s just a thin slice of Yahoo’s total sales of $1.15 billion for that quarter.

Yahoo’s total sales dropped by roughly 1 percent in 2014’s fourth quarter, compared with the same period in 2013.

Yahoo now has 575 million [m] users who access its mobile properties at least monthly, the company says, though that includes Yahoo-owned Tumblr.

But in wooing outside developers, Yahoo’s got competitors. The company’s biggest rivals, like Facebook, Google and now Twitter hold their own events for outside developers, all geared toward helping them grow and make money from their apps using the companies’ respective services. With that kind of competition, it may be hard for Yahoo to make the case that its services are better.

“There’s a lot of noise about building, growing and monetizing mobile apps,” said Shaan Puri, CEO at Monkey Inferno, a San Francisco startup space and incubator.

Still, it’s a good idea for Yahoo to hold the event, he said, even if the company’s goals are self-serving. “If they introduce tools to make it easier for developers to build apps,” he said, “they will be feeding their own advertising ecosystem.”

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