WIP CEO Lewko talks about the OneAPI trial, WAC's viability and more

caroline lewkowith Caroline Lewko, founder and CEO of Wireless Industry Partnership

As the CEO of the Wireless Industry Partnership, Caroline Lewko spends much of her time talking to wireless companies to help them understand what mobile developers need to be successful. In this interview with FierceDeveloper Editor-in-Chief Sue Marek, Lewko talks about some of the frustrations within the developer community, the fragmentation in application development and the GSMA's Wholesale Application Community.

FierceDeveloper: WIP has been working with the OneAPI project in Canada (a pilot program in which Bell Mobility, Rogers and Telus are working together to provide developers with standard APIs). How is that progressing?

Lewko: We helped OneAPI with their developer outreach. I think they are learning a lot. The developers that are using it understand the benefits. But the operators as a whole have not done a great job of articulating what those benefits are and how to reach multiple subscriber bases.

It's a pilot but it's intended to help developers cut down on doing all the business relationship management with every operator. They often spend months working on the relationship and then spend another six months or so filling out the paperwork and doing the legal stuff. Now it's done in an hour.  

But the Canadian pilot is the first time that three operators in one country have been able to get together and try it. That is pretty cool. But they are working out the growing pains and trying to figure out right kind of revenue models for this. 

They are also learning how spread out the developer community is and how difficult it is to find them and get them engaged.  It really is an engagement relationship. You can't just throw up a website and they will come.

FierceDeveloper: We've seen a real push in the past 18 months or so of all these organizations recruiting mobile developers. Clearly some do it better than others.  How does a developer decide which program to support? Has it become any easier to choose?

Lewko: It is still a difficult decision, but developers, to some extent, tend to go where others go.  They have heard that iPhone is easy and everyone is developing for it so they gravitate to that platform. And now everyone is working with Android so they are moving in that direction. Android has some issues with fragmentation but people are going that way.  If a developer has been working with Symbian they are still developing on Symbian but are looking at other platforms.  For those that are new to the game, Symbian is not even a glint in their eye.

FierceDeveloper: Can most developers develop for multiple operating systems?

Lewko:  It depends on the size of the organization. The bigger ones--like Gameloft--will do whatever they can to reach the most operators and the most handsets. But the little guys are going to develop to iPhone and Android because it gives them the opportunity for a larger market in less time.

FierceDeveloper: I thought it was interesting that T-Mobile decided to shutter its developer support program, the Partner Network in the U.S. Do you think others will follow?

Lewko: T-Mobile was quite strategic when they launched that program and they led the charge on the 70/30 revenue split. They pioneered that. I think part of it had to do with their head office--they were a small group in the U.S. But they are very hands-on now and very personal.

I think the operators that have invested a lot in their developer programs, like AT&T and Verizon, won't go away. But there is a lot of reinvention going on right now with the European carriers. It will be interesting to see what they roll out in the second half of the year.  For a lot of operators--or even OEMs--that haven't done anything yet or are smaller, they could go that way. And there is the GSMA's Wholesale Application Community, which takes some of the administration burden off of them. 

Some application stores are dealing with the same aggregators--we are tracking 84 app stores now--and they have a lot of the same apps in the same stores.  So they are trying to figure out ways to be unique. The WAC takes away that administration issues and so app stores can dig for the long tail apps on their own.

FierceDeveloper: The GSMA's Wholesale Application Community was launched in February and some believe that it's taking a really long time for them to make progress. Recently, WAC talked about business models and named its leadership team. Do you agree with criticism that it's moving too slowly? 

Lewko: Yes, I agree. Having worked in the industry for so long I understand what the processes are. Just getting the operators together probably takes weeks, never mind the decision-making processes. But yes, if they are serious about it, they need to act more entrepreneurial and get stuff done.

They have told us that they aren't ready to talk to developers yet.  But shouldn't they be the first people you talk to before you decide what to do with them?   It's backwards.

FierceDeveloper:  Do you think WAC is going to work?

Lewko: Well, we all hope it does. How much of the fragmentation from technical and apps stores will it solve? Even if it solves just 25 percent of the fragmentation in the industry it would be huge. I can't remember exactly how I calculated this but about a year ago I calculated that it cost the industry $6 billion per year because developers spend so much in re-porting their apps. That's significant.

FierceDeveloper:  We are now seeing mobile apps being translated from smartphones to other devices such as the iPad. And there is the possibility for these mobile apps even becoming part of the "connected home." But the fragmentation needs to be resolved at this level before it goes to the next level.

Lewko: That's a very good point.  When we talk about the connected car, connected home--everything you touch has an IP address. And the problems will exacerbate if it isn't resolved now. 

FierceDeveloper: What message would you like to give developers right now?

Lewko: Well, there is one message we give developers and one that we give to larger companies where we provide advocacy work for developers. For the companies that we provide advocacy for, we say solve the issues that you can solve. Operators want to solve tool issues but that isn't an issue they need to solve.

Developers need to get closer to the customer so they know who they are and can follow up with them. It's batting in the dark when you don't know who the customer is. And if you can't respond to them, or iterate on your app quickly enough because certification will take another six weeks, you are going to lose customers. Getting closer to the customer is really important, making changes to the certification process is an issue and finally, discovery is an issue.

FierceDeveloper: Why can't developers get access to the customer?

Lewko: They aren't given access. Bigger companies say that this is their competitive information. But there has to be ways to slice and dice the customer information so that developers know who their customers are. We just did a workshop and had clients submit apps to app stores. They realized how hard it is--there's no information on how to submit an app. And some received downloads immediately--within the hour--while others didn't even get notified if their app was on the store. There are still lots of holes in the process.