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Orange colours in the future

The future's bright, the future's converged

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Orange Developer Camp Orange last week mapped out the future for the benefit of developers who trekked all the way to Florida in the hope of doing business with one of the world's largest communication providers.

In common with the eight previous Orange Developer Camps the emphasis last week was on letting developers know the best way to get applications in front of Orange customers: through the Orange Download service, the application store, via the business services or - the holy grail for mobile developers - pre-installed on handsets as part of the Orange variant process. In exchange for turning up, and paying just shy of six hundred dollars per head, developers were offered meetings with Orange people, and introductions to the technologies Orange plans to develop over the next year or two.

Equally in common with previous camps was the air of overeager enthusiasm and the kind of optimism only found in America - prior to one party the assembled crowd were told they were about to have "fun" more than nine times, just in case there was any lingering doubt.

The invitations also promised sessions on how Orange was planning to respond to changing financial conditions, but the fantasy of nearby Disneyworld seems to have permeated the proceedings and phrases such as "credit crunch" and "economic collapse" simply didn't exist for the three days of camp. The only survival tips that were available included fire starting and shelter building, in keeping with the desert island theme - though "lost at sea" might have been more accurate.

But once the fluff was removed there was a lot of business being done. Orange holds this event in Florida so that American developers can attempt to sell their dream to Orange employees, while Orange employees explain to American developers the kind of applications they're interested in pushing. 64 Orange staff made the trip, 20 of those being logistical support, and the ten sponsors each provided four or five representatives, meaning that developers accounted for a little over half the 300 people there - allowing for press, PR, etc. That might sound strange, but when the purpose of the event is to put innovation in front of Orange staff then you need to have plenty of Orange staff to look at stuff.

Developers were briefed on how Orange wants to see the same applications deployed across three screens: the TV, the phone and the computer, specifically with the intention of driving TV viewing up from the lamentable 3.5 hours a day (in France) to a more respectable 5 hours a day. This will be achieved by offering more video-on-demand content and, eventually, bringing widgets and interactive applications to the TV though SoftAtHome - a multi-device platform in which Orange admits investing in to prevent the competition making use of it.

Another way to get punters to watch more TV is, apparently, to get it shuttled around the house so every family member can watch in separate rooms. Orange reckons 802.11n is the ideal technology for this kind of thing, not to mention carrying in-home calls using UMA, the company seems immune from the femtocell hype to which the competition subscribes.

But it's not just a matter of making punters watch more TV, Orange wants to open up its own network to outsiders and has published a set of APIs to allow third-parties to trigger network functions - third parties approved by Orange of course. Right now that's mainly about sending SMS messages, but the operator is hoping more innovation will come with time.

Other developer programs, and everyone seems to have one these days, tend to focus on providing developers with the support they need and then helping them find a route to market, but with Orange Partners the premise is more honest: the best way to reach customers is though the communications provider, we are the communications provider, so sell your ideas to us and we'll see what we can do.

After three days of talking to developers it was remarkable to see the Orange staff remaining painfully upbeat, even after having their ear bent by everyone with half an application and a business plan sketched on the back of a napkin. It will be interesting to see if the fixed grins are still there in a year when the economic situation has had a chance to bite. Strangely we find ourselves hoping they will.®

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