Verizon to Mobile Developers: Can You Hear Me Now?

IMG_2505Verizon wants to build its own app store, and is planning a July 28 event to entice developers to its platform. Like everyone else wooing programmers, the company hopes to get the equivalent of the in-crowd building the hottest apps that will elevate its store, and thus its phones and network, to the level of popularity that Apple’s iPhone currently enjoys. But getting a critical mass of developers building great software isn’t an easy task.

And while Verizon is romancing developers, the carrier isn’t as solicitous of its handset partners. Verizon’s Ryan Hughes, VP Partner Management, said in an interview Friday that the network operator’s app store will be the sole marketplace on devices sold by the company, meaning stores such as Research In Motion’s BlackBerry App World or Microsoft’s Windows Mobile Marketplace won’t get placement on Verizon handsets unless a consumer downloads them. Hughes also said that Verizon is focusing on aggregating content from four different developer communities: Windows Mobile, Palm, Android and BlackBerry.

Here’s how it will work. Hughes says developers can build applications for whatever platform they want. If they want to tie those apps to Verizon’s subscriber data for information about locations or to bill a customer, the developer needs to go through a quick approval process with Verizon and add an API to access the appropriate data. Consumers will see a Verizon app store before the close of this year, and developers can expect to learn all about this at the Verizon Developer Community Conference on July 28 in San Jose, Calif.

This is an about-face for Verizon, which has historically not laid out a welcome mat for developers. Hughes says in the past the company set the prices a developer could charge for an app running on the Verizon network. Now, Hughes said, developers will get a check, although he declined to disclose the details of a revenue-sharing program with me. He said it would be “competitive, not only with the price, but with the process and the simplicity which developers have come to expect in open ecosystems.”

I assume he means Apple’s App Store for the iPhone, which has reinvented the idea of mobile applications by making the process of consuming such apps easier on consumers, and the approach to offering them less painful for developers. Hughes never mentioned Apple by name, but he said the carrier has changed its philosophy toward application stores. He said Verizon has offered content for years using Qualcomm’s Brew platform for feature phones, but smartphones were left out. Now that smartphones are so popular with consumers rather than merely with corporate users, having applications is becoming more important, and those apps are coming from a greater number of providers.

“There’s been a huge influx in content largely due to the other app catalogs, from the middle-tier and long-tail developer community. We’ve always had deals with companies like ESPN and EA, but now there are all these mom-and-pop developers. So where there were once 20 or 40 developers that you needed to care about, now you have 100,000,” Hughes said. “Quite candidly, we didn’t have the framework to handle those applications in Brew.”

Verizon will still offer the Brew platform on its feature phones, but has now turned its energy to building out a Verizon app store for smartphones. Hughes admits these handsets are far more open than feature phones, which means that instead of approaching developers and consumers as a dictator, Verizon will have to make nice with an easy-to-use interface and quality design. We’ll see how well this goes.

For more on this topic, see our previous coverage:

Vodafone Wants to Take a Bite Out of Apple’s App Store

Telstra’s Planned App Store Is a Shift for Carriers

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