IBM on Tuesday named the three winners of its Watson Mobile Developer Challenge, adding to the short list of other companies IBM is working with to inject Watson’s unique brand of intelligence into their applications. Seven months after announcing the Watson Developer Cloud, the company might want to pick up the pace a little bit.
The three winners of the mobile challenge — GenieMD, Majestyk Apps and Red Ant — will gain access to the Watson cloud, as well as IBM’s support in building their applications and their businesses. Big Blue has also announced at least eight other companies building applications on Watson cloud (five are listed here), and has made financial investments in some of them. According to a spokesperson, all of the other 22 finalists of the mobile app challenge still have access to the Watson cloud, and the company has received more than 2,500 applications overall.
However, as I have written before, the real key to making Watson the $10 billion business IBM expects it will be is to really open up the cloud APIs to all developers. Conditioning access behind an application process — as it’s done right now — simply isn’t going to bring in enough money (something IBM no doubt knows) or enough innovative ideas to really help figure out what the killer apps for Watson might be. IBM claims it’s going to open it up it cloud platform at some point, and sooner is probably better.
Who knows: In the right hands, maybe using IBM to create recipes is more than just a publicity stunt. However, an IBM spokesperson commented via email, “For now, the application process helps ensure the use case is in line with Watson’s capabilities. As understanding of cognitive grows, which is happening at an accelerated pace, this will not be necessary.”
Cognitive computing is certainly a different type of computing than many developers are used to, but Watson isn’t the only artificial intelligence technology available via API. AlchemyAPI is offering deep-learning-based text analysis and computer vision services, and Expect Labs is offering an API for intelligent recommendations. Both have a freemium business model and are open to whomever wishes to signup. If the documentation is good, it’s possible developers wishing to experiment with Watson will need less hand-holding than IBM might expect.
One thing that’s always fresh in my mind as we head toward our Structure conference (it’s June 18 and 19 in San Francisco, if you we’re wondering) is how much innovation the easy access to developer tools has spawned in the past few years, and how many companies those tools have catapulted into the stratosphere. Throngs of developers made Amazon Web Services , New Relic and Heroku — they paid the bills and, more importantly, helped inspire new features and product strategies.
As someone who follows the AI space very closely, I’d like to see what’s possible when Watson’s APIs get into the hands of potentially millions of developers, and what happens to IBM’s business as a result. If that doesn’t happen soon, though, I guess I’ll just watch what happens when similar technologies from startup companies and, presumably, Google and Microsoft become available and hit the developer market hard. Because that is going to happen, however long it takes IBM to open the doors to Watson.
For more on IBM’s vision with Watson in the cloud, check out this Structure Data session with IBM Watson VP Stephen Gold and AlchemyAPI founder Eliot Turner.
Update: This post was updated at 1:35 p.m. with a comment from IBM about its application process.