Alan Quayle and Developer API Fatigue

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I think Alan Quayle has put his finger on something with his latest blog post, titled “When everybody wants to be your friend: what’s an Application Developer to do?”. Well worth a read, the exec summary is this: the whole mobile and telecom industry is actually increasing the fragmentation for developers, not decreasing it. And it seems that the rate of fragmentation is increasing, not decreasing. And if they keep that up, they’re hosed.

Ok that’s not exactly what he said, but that’s how I read it. And I think it’s a point worth serious consideration. How does the mobile/wireless world look from a developer’s perspective?

  • Vodafone would like you to develop to their APIs
  • Orange would like you to develop to their APIs
  • BT/Android would like you to develop to their APIs
  • Apple would….

And so on. You get the idea. I suspect that if mobile developers could wave a wand and make a wish, they would wish for:

  • A single set of device APIs
  • A single set of network APIs

The device APIs would either be enabled or net depending on the capabilities of a given device; and the network APIs would be present or not depending on the capabilities of a given network. Both sets would have a mandatory core (lowest common denominator).

Yes, I know this is incredibly simplistic, and frightfully difficult to achieve given the complexity of the mobile and wireless value chain (handset manufacturers, mobile OS suppliers, operators, retailers, etc.). But I did say it was just a wish 🙂 Isn’t this just unreasonable?

No.

When I code against an internet API, broadly speaking, it’s the same, everywhere. As Alan says, the danger is that while time passes with all these initiatives underway, the internet players in particular will just eat Telco lunch. To get a feel for this “in the small”, look at RCS (rich communication suite), an excellent initiative within the broader IMS arena. RCS is rapidly iterating to define common and consistent user experience and feature sets for the social phonebook coming to IMS-enabled phones in late 2009. Two things about it though are worrying:

  • No internet players (none!) are involved in RCS (so the players who effectively defined presence and IM and taught the world to use it are not helping define the experience)
  • By the time RCS emerges in volume products, tens of millions of people, maybe hundreds of millions, will have already had their expectations set around how rich presence, value-add calling and so on should behave, by Skype, Facebook, Truphone, Google/GTalk, Calliflower, iChat, SkyDeck, and a host of other names, none of whom you’ll notice, are traditional telecom operators. This is a problem.

Anyway – didn’t mean to rant. But Alan’s rant set me off 🙂

Finally: a word in defense of WipJam (formerly MobileJam) – at Wipjam, they participants try to sort out a way through all this mess, so it’s one of the sessions well worth attending. But then, I would say that 🙂

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2 responses to “Alan Quayle and Developer API Fatigue

  1. Pingback: #mwc09 part 3 « Voice. An Opinion.

  2. I don’t see a lot of of ‘vision’ on the horizon or the problem getting solved any time soon.

    I agree that lack of a ‘real’ Internet player is just going to have it ‘the samol’.

    Even oneAPI may not get out of the starting gate much

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