AT&T's Summers talks about open APIs, HTML5 and how developers can be more successful

Jon Summers

    Jon Summers

At AT&T Mobility's (NYSE:T Developer Summit in Las Vegas earlier this month the company announced several initiatives, including the launch of an API platform targeted at helping developers run their mobile apps more efficiently and leverage AT&T's network. Sue Marek, editor-in-chief of FierceDeveloper, talked with Jon Summers, AT&T's senior vice president of applications and services infrastructure, about the company's developer outreach program and what it's doing to help mobile app developers be more successful.  

FierceDeveloper: Let's talk about AT&T's App Center, a store that will distribute HTML5 apps. I thought AT&T wasn't interested in building and launching an app store?

Jon Summers: The focus behind the App Center is essentially that we are giving developers who build out HTML5 an avenue for search and discovery to our user community. We would expect that developers who have a relationship with the various stores that exist today will continue to do that.

HTML5 is a major focus for us and we believe it's a great platform for enabling cross-OS delivery of services. This is another vehicle to give their apps exposure and distribution.

For us, HTML5 provides a vehicle for developers to overcome what's been an age-old issue of developing once and porting across various operating systems. Developers can abstract their apps capability from the underlying OS and build to what we enable in a browser.

FierceDeveloper: Is there an enterprise bent to this?

Summers: We do have a separate set of activities focused on certifying applications for different segments of the business community. We have a set of pre-packaged apps certified through our company that is available. But the App Center is not specifically for the enterprise market.

FierceDeveloper: Tell me about the open API platform.  

Summers: Last you saw us putting tools in place for developers to improve their apps and make better apps and leverage network assets that they before they didn't access or couldn't access because it was too difficult.

We've been hard at work building the API platform in partnership with Apigee and Sencha.  Through the Foundry we were introduced to Apigee and Sencha and we have now built out that platform.

FierceDeveloper:  You are offering developers access to the platform for $99 for unlimited access.  Why that price point?

Summers: Early on we wanted open network and open platform capabilities to drive engagement and support capabilities and simplify how developers interact with our network. Now we are taking down the barriers related to pricing on those APIs is part of that solution.

There are a lot of different business models today for apps and app stores and use of APIs. You might see a revenue-share model or per-dip model. This approach is for a program-wide participation. You get access to the support capabilities and tools in addition to unlimited use of those APIs.

FierceDeveloper:  Is AT&T's API Platform about adding a revenue stream for AT&T or about driving usage?

Summers: Our view is that at the end of the day it's about creating the best possible customer experience and creating value for customers. As it related to that customer experience it starts with the network but you have to have great apps and services as well as great devices. Our view is that if we can make our network and capabilities easier to consume by developers that will help them create better apps. And by using some of the tools, developers can optimize their apps running on the network.

FierceDeveloper:  Let's talk about the ARO--the application resource manager tool that you announced. Why is that important for developers?

Summers: One of the big gaps for people is to understand how applications consume network and device resources. The first step to building a highly efficient app is understanding how it consumes those resources.

A highly efficient app delivers a better performing app but also consumes less battery and less network resources for us. It's a win-win solution for the consumer, the network and the developer.

FierceDeveloper: It's a pretty common knowledge that there are a lot of developers out there that still aren't making money.  We've heard stories of developers working for months on an app that in the end they only earn $5,000.  How is that going to be resolved?   It is a difficult business for many to make money in.

Summers: Well there are a few things that need to be done. First, we need to make building and enabling apps on our network and devices as easy as it can possibly be to reduce the amount of time it takes to build apps and reduce the cycle time it takes to onboard apps. All of those things contribute to the cost structure for the developer. 

On the monetization side, we need to give the developers multiple options for how they monetize. Whether it's a revenue share arrangement through an app store or through in-app billing capability that enables them to monetize services within their app or whether its premium billing back to AT&T's service bill, or an advertising API that lets them pull in ads to their app --there is not one silver bullet. We need to be aggressive about helping them create a viable cost structure as well as give them multiple monetization options.

Tools like HTML5 help with that. If you are a developer and have to invest in porting your application across multiple operating systems to reach the biggest possible audience, it's expensive.

FierceDeveloper: Most developers struggle with knowing which operating system to develop for first and which one will give them the biggest audience for their app. 

Summers: Obviously right now there's a big focus on iOS and Android but with HTML5 there is the opportunity to develop for a broader reach.

FierceDeveloper: Are developers really developing to HTML5 now or is this still in the future?

Summers: We have seen a lot of growth over the past few months. One of the drivers of that growth is the deployment of HTML5-compatible browsers across a device portfolio. So the fact that we are standardizing across our device portfolio with HTML5 browser compatibility is a very important driver.

When there are hundreds of millions of devices across the industry that are capable of HTML5, that will start to pull through more and more applications all around.

If you can reach hundreds of millions of devices and you can create an app that runs on a browser consistently across a broad portfolio of devices, that's a winning combination.

For us, it's about what can we do to help with that innovation. The API strategy, the tools around the developer platform and the ARO tool, the HTML5 focus, and the foundry, these are all about creating a very vibrant ecosystem that enables innovation and and celebrates the pace of innovation.

You asked the question about monetization. There will be opportunities for us to monetize it, but it's really about creating a great experience for the customer.