I heard of Vodafone Betavine last September, at mobileCampLondon. I never got round to thinking of something to write using their API, so didn’t sign up in the end.

I met up with Owen from Betavine again last weekend at Over The Air which gave him another chance to ‘sell’ it to me. 🙂

Actually, both he and another Vodafone guy, Matt, spent time going through the idea behind Betavine and the benefits that it tries to bring – and it turned out that I’d missed some of the idea behind the site.

They convinced me to give the site another try, so last night I logged back on and started adding some content to see how it all works.

As I said last September, Betavine gives you an API to interact with mobile and web services, providing an infrastructure for sending text messages, pushing web links and Vodafone content to mobile devices.

What I didn’t realise at the time is that you don’t have to be using a Betavine API to upload mobile apps to the device. You can also use it as a way to distribute and support mobile applications.

People wanting to sell mobile applications can use a site like Handango. You get the benefit of exposure on a well-known site, and they handle stuff like taking money from customers. (All for a not-inconsiderable fee!)

I’ve never looked to sell my apps – there are almost certainly clauses in my contract with IBM that would forbid this, and at any rate, I rarely finish or tidy up applications to the point where I’d be comfortable charging money for them.

The alternative I’ve always used is packaging up the results of my random hackings into CAB installers, and putting it on my server for download.

Betavine offers a compromise. I can upload applications for hosting on Betavine’s servers. I don’t want to imply that all the apps available on Betavine are unfinished or of poor quality, but I think it’s fair to say that there is a place for my sort of work-in-progress apps.

It offers more than just hosting. They provide a reliable count of downloads for each version of a file. This isn’t something I normally check for code I’ve shared. The exception is my wiki app, for which I occassionally keep an eye on the number of downloads from my web server stats. Even then, this is a misleading figure – it’s hard to know how a number of downloads for a regularly-changing file translates to a number of people. With Betavine, you get a count of registered users who have downloaded the app.

Betavine keeps previous versions, so if I break an app with an update, people can still get a copy of a previous level. This is something that I could do myself, but I’ve never been serious enough about ‘releasing’ software to bother.

They make installation a little easier – offering to send a link to the app to a user’s phone directly. This might be simpler for people who don’t know how to transfer files to their device.

They collect feedback – something I’ve not made a lot of effort for. I’ve got blog comments and I’ve tried phpbb forums, but I don’t actively seek feedback. With Betavine, people who download apps receive a text message referring them to a mobile-friendly webpage asking for feedback. Users who give feedback get their device type collected, too – so developers can see stats based on which makes and models of PDAs have ran the app without problems, and which ones have had errors.

I’ve tried it out with the Twitter client that I wrote at the weekend – which is now hosted on Betavine.

Initial reactions? It all seems to work pretty much as they say. This post is the first time I’ve pointed anyone at the Betavine page, which managed to get five downloads in a day. Okay, so the Betavine doesn’t drive a massive amount of traffic to my apps, but there are a few people at least who came across it.

There seem to be a lot of delays and safeties built in the system, that I found a little frustrating. For example, when you post a new version of an application, you have to wait for it to be approved by a site administrator. To be fair, it’s not a big delay – I’m only talking about a few hours. (And this is compared with several weeks or months if you want to upload a freeware app to somewhere like, or when I’ve tried to release updates to SupportPacs on But regardless, I am fairly impatient and found it a little annoying. Perhaps I’ve just gotten used to being able to upload files to my server whenever I want. And I guess there is a benefit to them making sure that files hosted on their site are legitimate.

Overall, I’m liking it so far. They offer a decent service to developers wanting to distribute and support their apps in a more professional way than just putting a file on a web server. It’s all free and saves the hassle of doing it yourself. Their approach of trying to build up a community around mobile development through the site also looks very promising.

What do people think? I’ve talked about the benefits in the information it gives me as a developer, but what about the user experience? When linked to something I’ve written, would people prefer to download it from a central site like Betavine rather than a personal domain like mine?

What about the fact that users need to register in order to be able to download an app? While I can see the benefits to the developer of collecting user information, is this an annoyance? Are there likely to be people who would rather not download an app than have to go through yet another website sign-up?

What about the Vodafone branding? Does this put off people with phones from other network providers? Their FAQ does clearly state: “Betavine is not just for developers or Vodafone customers, it is open to all” so that’s enough for me, but will everyone read that?

Quick disclaimer: Any misrepresentation of Betavine here is entirely my fault for not listening properly, and not the fault of Owen or Matt!

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3 Responses to “Betavine”

  1. Owen Griffin says:

    Hi, Dale.

    The reason why it takes a while for your uploads to appear is that they have to be approved by the webmaster. The web master checks the file uploads for viruses and other nasties. He then manually approves the file. However he’s not always around to approve the file. 🙂 He does however receive an SMS when there is a new upload.

    Thanks for the nice write-up!


  2. dale says:

    Yeah, I figured it was something like that.

    Actually, I tried uploading a second app this morning, and it got approved within 15 minutes! So I shouldn’t really complain… like I said, it’s way faster than anywhere else I’ve used. I’m just inherently impatient 🙂

    I’ll have to get a few more apps ready for uploading. And try getting into the forums a bit more.

  3. Margaret says:

    Thanks for the review Dale – and very good questions!

    I look forward to reading people’s answers, and keep the feedback coming.

    Don’t be afraid to be critical, we really want this to be a genuinely useful source of support for developers, and will only achieve that if we hear what’s ‘broken’ from a user point of view.