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An Interview With Ed Schmit, AT&T Developer Ecosystem

by Jean-Jacques Dubray on May 16, 2011 |

There are a number of mobile developer events which are happening across the country. InfoQ met with Ed Schmit, Director with the AT&T Developer Program, at the Seattle Mobile Hackathon to share his views on the evolution of Mobile Applications and Devices. The next Hackathon will be in San Diego, June 4th.

InfoQ: Mobile Applications and Mobile APIs are generating a lot of interest in the industry, what kind of advice would you give to developers to help them ramp up their skills to build client applications and consume APIs?

Ed: Given the competitive environment, it is vital that developers differentiate their applications and provide greater value to their customers. The mobile application ecosystem is going through another inflection point now where some of the most successful developers will be those that use Web APIs in new and compelling ways. Otherwise, platforms and technologies are evolving quickly Developers need to keep up with this rapid pace of innovation.

InfoQ: Where do you see the developers struggling the most?

Ed: From a marketing perspective it is discoverability and then from a technical perspective, fragmentation. Although consumers are spending more money than ever on mobile apps, the developers that are getting the lion share of sales are those on the top selling apps lists. Developers who may not have had to work hard to sell their apps in the past are finding more difficult environment and have to learn to adapt. The fragmentation issues seem to be getting worse as OEMs strive to differentiate their devices. Although tools are better than ever, developers often have to work quickly to take advantage of new features and functionality.

InfoQ: APIs are often involved in financial transactions and accessing or sharing private data, could you tell us a bit about the mechanisms in place to secure API calls?

Ed: From an enterprise perspective, VPNs and APNs are used for security but that is not often the case for consumers. Now, GSM data is encrypted to an extent, but certainly possible to intercept. Developers that transmit sensitive information should add some additional data encryption-there are tools available to help here. From an authentication, authorization and privacy perspective, the industry seems to be converging towards OAuth 2.0 which is still in development.

InfoQ: What are some of the scalability challenges developers are facing or will face as their app become popular?

Ed: This obviously depends on the application. If it just a simple device-based application or one that just pushed information, it is not difficult to scale. However, an increasing number of applications have server-side component-where developers obviously need to scale with users (particularly if it is a social app-and each new member drives that many additional interactions. Many developers are going to cloud providers to help with these scalability issues.

InfoQ: Business models are becoming an increasing factor in the mobile application design, could you share with us some of the best strategies to help developers monetize their applications? 

Ed: This answer could be a book-and the answer again depends on the application. It is no secret developers earn the most money if they can justify subscription service. Some developers have been very successful with in app payments. Developers need to be careful with free apps or pricing their apps for single download at too low of a cost. Advertising is starting to take off and will be important for the future. The fact is, developers need to look at all of these.

InfoQ: The mobile app for the enterprise market seems to be taking off as well, what are some the key differences with the consumer market? How do businesses approach this new media?

Ed: First, in some ways it is similar-there are several business apps that are getting lots of sales and downloads from consumer catalogs. Enterprise users will pay for apps if valuable. There is clearly a big opportunity though selling mobile apps to enterprises in the same way that apps have always been sold to consummers. This requires sophisticated selling and marketing materials, but some companies are finding great success. Similar to what happened in the server space, besides off-the-shelf apps there is great opportunity for developers who will help enterprises create custom apps.

InfoQ: We are obviously at the beginning of the .mob boom, where are mobile applications going over the next two years? What are the key trends you could share with us?

Ed: Three trends include HTML5, the cloud, and 4G. With the HTML5 standard coming to devices, developers will be able to access device APIs so that those apps behave more like native ones. It also opens mobile devices up to lots of developers with HTML, Javascript, and CSS knowledge. The cloud is making it easy for developers to scale their apps and add enablers. Then 4G brings greater bandwidth which both facilitates cloud interactions and enables new applications.

InfoQ: What are some of the cool device evolutions you think will be important over the next few years? (3D, new sensors, near field comm ...)

Ed:This is always tough to predict. Clearly sensors will play an increasing role to enable all sorts of applications, particularly medical to start. 3D is a near term technology that provide another opportunity for differentiation. There are already apps making good use of augmented reality, but that will clearly gain more traction.

InfoQ: Thank you !

 

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