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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