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CTIA: Carriers' Developer Love Fest is Kaput

Sarah Thomas
5/22/2013

LAS VEGAS -- CTIA -- At CTIA this time last year and the year before it, you'd be hard pressed to find a wireless operator that wasn't talking up its tight bond with the mobile app developer community. This year it seems the relationship has turned sour. Well, not sour exactly, but indifferent, as if the operators have gotten bored chasing the affections of a much younger, more fun beau. For example, Verizon Wireless's Executive Director of Network and Technology Jim Wales told me that working with app developers is no longer Verizon's main focus. Instead, its primary work at its two innovation centers, in Waltham, Mass., and San Francisco is focused on devices. Verizon only has five application programming interfaces (APIs) it exposes to developers -- SMS, MMS, location, carrier properties and state of the device -- compared to AT&T's 13. But even AT&T made it clear it's squarely focused on the enterprise market rather than consumer apps. Laura Merling, AT&T's VP of ecosystem and platform development, joined the company just four months ago after heading up Alcatel-Lucent's apps enablement program for three years. The vendor just sold off its API repository, claiming that the operators no longer wanted their help with apps, and Merling's new focus at AT&T makes it clear they're no longer the top priority. (See AlcaLu Sells Off its API Repository and Operators Cut AlcaLu Out of API Equation.) Merling said that operators were initially encouraged by huge developer programs from companies like Facebook that would attracts thousands of developers to sign up. But Facebook makes money in different ways, and the carriers couldn't get quite as many "likes." Hence, they switched gears to the enterprise where there are "immediate wins." Like most other operators, AT&T is also focusing on one-off apps or services it can acquire, monetize and benefit from. It all comes back to what's going to make the operators the most money. Enabling and empowering developers is a nice idea, but it's not where the money's at. [AT&T isn't so happy with my view of the situation: One of its media relations reps has been in touch to complain, stating that AT&T "is just as committed to its developer program as before… the work Laura Merling and her team are doing in the enterprise space is an extension to this."] While the carriers' about-face on developers is amusing, it is probably the right decision. It's not like the developers are breaking down their doors, begging to be taken back. They have done fine on their own, and the good ones will likely work out partnerships where needed or else continue merrily over the top of networks. That's not to say the API market isn't still hot -- it's hotter than ever. Operators' involvement in it has just cooled, grown up and gone to work, where it belongs. — Sarah Reedy, Senior Editor, LightReading

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Sarah Thomas
Sarah Thomas
5/23/2013 | 4:52:07 PM
re: CTIA: Carriers' Developer Love Fest is Kaput
I agree, Mordy, in that it does make sense to home in on a few areas of strength. The carriers would have me stress that they are not abandoning developers...all still support innovation labs and dev programs (although Verizon doesn't have an API program). When I say "lovefest," I mean all the talk and hurray around the developer community. That, it seems to me, has dissipated entirely. Carriers are getting more practical.
MordyK
MordyK
5/23/2013 | 4:46:09 PM
re: CTIA: Carriers' Developer Love Fest is Kaput
Overall carriers have historically been better suited to dealing with a small set of partners and focus on the enterprise so this actually makes a lot of sense. Rule #1 is play to your strengths and this is their strength.

That said once you figure out what the enterprises want and expose those capabilities, there can be a new opportunity presented to developers that can have them"breaking down the doors" of the carrier. In any event the monetization is quicker and more straightforward with high contact enterprise solutions.

However as iv'e discussed many times, the implementation of the API's for the developer community has only been addressed hesitantly and haphazardly by the carriers, so their lack of developers "knocking down the doors" is not a justification to abandon the community. Drawing the wrong lessons can be just as dangerous as not learning at all.
Ray Le Maistre
Ray Le Maistre
5/23/2013 | 4:10:05 PM
re: CTIA: Carriers' Developer Love Fest is Kaput
And it's an interesting opinion! And one that matches the prevailing trend... at Mobile World Congress, and in talks with executives at operators, it seems the gap between what the developers want and what the operators can deliver isn't closing too much...
Sarah Thomas
Sarah Thomas
5/23/2013 | 3:06:13 PM
re: CTIA: Carriers' Developer Love Fest is Kaput
To be clear, this is a blog -- my opinion on the industry and carriers' relationship with developers. AT&T would like to clarify that it is still very much focused on the developer community through its Foundry and other initiatives. The enterprise side is just an extension of its previous work.

Merling said: "The same stories we might have told a year are
still happening. They are closer to happening now. It's not about selling to
the long-tail We will still participate in long-tail developer and communities,
but we can see an immediate business in helping [enterprises] with their pain
points."

Coupled with what I've heard from Verizon, Alcatel-Lucent and developers in the industry, my impression is that the relationship has cooled from where it was the past two years. What are your thoughts?
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