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Yahoo woos app makers at its first mobile conference

During a confab in San Francisco, the company announces its first set of tools aimed at helping software developers make money on their apps.

Yahoo announced new tools aimed at mobile developers on Thursday. Screenshot by Richard Nieva/CNET

Marissa Mayer's latest pitch to Silicon Valley: Yahoo wants to help smartphone and tablet developers manage their mobile apps.

On Thursday, the company announced new tools aimed at mobile-software developers that would help them measure user engagement and make money off their apps. They do this by making it easier to insert ads or communicate with partners.

It's the first time Yahoo has offered such tools to developers, but it's very much part of CEO Marissa Mayer's strategy to bring the tech giant into the mobile era.

"Mobile went from being a hobby at our company, with just 50 people working on it, to being a quarter of our business," said Mayer, during the company's first conference aimed at mobile-software developers in San Francisco. She said the company made $1.2 billion from ads on mobile devices in 2014.

Mobile developers are considered critical allies in Silicon Valley. Convincing them to use a company's tools, such as Apple's payments service or Facebook's virtual address book, can help to popularize features and tie customers more closely with a service. Tech companies large and small have geared their operations to do just that, offering a myriad of social-networking, payments and user account services to help app developers manage software for the almost 2 billion smartphone users in the world.

For Yahoo, making waves in the mobile industry is crucial as it attempts to compete with its rivals. And while giants like Apple, Facebook and Google have been able to migrate with users from desktop computers to smartphones and tablets, Yahoo has largely missed that shift. Apple and Google both power nearly all of the world's smartphones.

Advertising on smartphones and tablets has been a key battleground for the top tech companies. Facebook makes almost 70 percent of its overall advertising sales on mobile devices. Yahoo, struggling with its own mobile-ad revenue, wants a bigger piece of the market. Yahoo has 3.2 percent of the mobile-ad revenue market in the United States -- fourth place behind Google, Facebook and Twitter, according to the research firm eMarketer.

There are signs Yahoo is starting to catch up. The company said it made $254 million in revenue from mobile ads last quarter, up 23 percent from the previous quarter, when the company first started reporting the figure. During a conference call last quarter, Mayer said the strategy before she took over the company was "confused." Among all the tech giants, Yahoo's share of the mobile-ad market is expected to grow the most by 2016, eMarketer says.

The new tools Yahoo announced on Thursday are rooted in technology from Flurry, a mobile analytics company Yahoo acquired in August. Since then, Mayer has shaken up Yahoo's ad team. Flurry Chief Product Officer Prashant Fuloria has taken over as Yahoo's senior vice president for advertising products.

The products unveiled on Thursday include Flurry Pulse, which lets app makers share data with partners, and measure audience size through a new integration with ComScore, the digital analytics company. Another new product, Yahoo Search in App, gives apps the ability to use Yahoo's search engine to scour the Web. If Yahoo can get developers to use those tools, it will be able to distribute ads across thousands of third-party apps.

Mayer used the event as a first effort to build a rapport with newcomers unfamiliar with working with the company. "I know for many of you, you're new to Yahoo," she told the crowd. "We want to work together to drive businesses and apps forward."