Operator-initiated app programs have met little success (so far)

The recent demise of the Wholesale Applications Community (WAC) appears to be another example of the difficulties the operator community has catering relevant and appealing programs for the developer community.

The organization tasked with creating common carrier APIs, WAC, last month announced it was selling its technology to Apigee and folding its development efforts into the GSMA.

WAC's demise not a surprise

The fact that WAC did not succeed comes as little surprise to many, given the skepticism that dogged the venture since it was founded in 2010. Developers have traditionally had a bug-eyed view of any operator forays into their world, and with good reason, as previous operator app-level initiatives have demonstrated.

Writing about WAC back in 2010, Simone Cicero, a guest blogger for analyst firm Vision Mobile said that the WAC initiative "is a knee-jerk reaction on the part of operators--an effort towards embracing developers and seizing the community of value-adding actors away from the likes of Nokia, Apple and Google."

Cicero accused not only WAC but also the Rich Communications Services (RCS) initiatives of "reinventing the wheel" and providing little added value for developers.

In a posting on his blog, Quayle agreed: "If you don't make something better you're not relevant. The WAC run-time was simply overtaken by HTML5."

According to Tom Rebbeck, head of custom research at Analysys Mason, WAC had certain elements that developers needed to develop apps for different mobile platforms such as Apple's (NASDAQ:AAPL) iOS and Google's (NASDAQ:GOOG) Android, but not all. He added that developers had little incentive to take WAC seriously, when instead they could go to Apple or Google and get the SDKs that would allow them to develop apps that would work on every iPhone or Android phone and include all the various communications elements they would need.

"A bigger issue," Rebbeck said, "is that operators are organised on a national basis, so how do they work against the likes of Google [in attracting developers] that have no boundaries?"

Operators struggle to capture developer imagination

Developers have certain fairly obvious needs: to have access to tools and APIs that allow them to develop apps that will work across a broad platform and that will bring in some form of revenue. Efforts by operators to help them do this have so far failed to capture the developer imagination to such a degree that Dean Bubley, founder of Disruptive Analysis, felt moved to ask on his blog: "Have any recent multi-telco collaborations at the app or service level actually borne fruit?"

"There have been plenty of trials, initiatives and pilots," Bubley said. "WAC, OneAPI, in-country attempts at collaborative payment platforms (i.e.,  PayForIt in the UK), API exposure (i.e. in Canada) or IM connectivity (various).... but I'm struggling to think of anything new that has proven substantive so far."

Bubley noted that "there's a bunch of new stuff just starting," including RCSe, but the jury is still out on this too.

RCSe is the latest version of Rich Communication Suite (RCS) and is designed to enable mobile users to use instant messaging (IM), live video sharing and file share across any mobile phone on any network operator.

Bubley said he has some sympathy for the U.S. approach to RCS because "critically, there's a clear developer angle. I think that RCS/RCSe/Joyn has very little chance of success (anywhere) as a messaging app but I can just about buy into the API story, at least in concept if not execution."

Instead, he believes that companies such as Solaiemes with its "thin client" RCS and "with the bulk of the work done in the cloud, and just a much lighter app (or browser) on the device makes sense, especially as it makes it easier to do RCS-as-OTT implementations."

Source: The Solaiemes blog

According to Juan Mateu, co-founder and CEO of Solaiemes: "If companies such as Voxeo and Twilio are succeeding in 'selling' legacy global reach enablers such as voice and SMS through very easy to use APIs, telcos can do the same with RCSe."

Rebbeck of Analysys Mason added that Twilio is already doing for developers what operators would like to do themselves: Twilio, which recently launched SDKs for iOS and Android, provides simple APIs that developers can use to integrate voice and text messaging capabilities into their Android and iOS apps. The company charges no upfront fees: developers pay solely for the traffic their apps generate.

Rebbeck said Telefonica's approach with BlueVia is similar to that of Twilio. The operator is opening up the platform and offering revenue share to developers when an SMS is sent and received. Telefonica's recent launch of OTT app TU Me, which many see as the operator's efforts to compete with existing OTT communications apps such as WhatsApp and Vibe,r was another step in this direction.

The very concept of OTT apps launched by developers to circumvent the wireless operator's network initially had operators foaming at the mouth, but OTT will not be for every developer. Indeed, many developers and API providers value their existing billing relationship with operators.