In the rush among carriers to be more than a dumb pipe, AT&T today became the latest to expand the way it offers APIs to developers, in a bid to drive more revenue from its mobile network: it is partnering with mobile app developer platform Appcelerator to offer APIs for speech, mobile messaging and mobile payment services into their apps. This is the first time that a carrier has partnered with Appcelerator, whose Appcelerator Titanium platform is used by 350,000 developers, but there are likely to be more. TechCrunch has heard that Deutsche Telekom is among those that are in talks with the company.
The news comes a week after another carrier, Telefonica, announced that it would expand its Blue Via API platform with participation from third-party carriers, and just one day after Twilio — which also offers developers API-based access to services like voice — announced 150,000 developers and 1.5 million phone calls per day based on its voice APIs, with its service now covering 40 countries.
The move by AT&T is a sign of how carriers are now starting to get more focused in how they approach developers so that they can get a bigger piece of revenue action from apps — with AT&T specifically turning to Appcelerator, already popular with developers, to help with that strategy. AT&T has been running its own developer program since January 2012. It says that last month it had over 4.9 billion API calls through the program, covering features like messaging and billing (the full list is here).
This is a big step forward after the inactivity and relative failure of WAC, an operator consortium that tried to achieve the same end, and shows how some carriers, rather than trying to build up developer ecosystems themselves, are gravitating to where those developers are already doing work.
Appcelerator currently counts 350,000 developers using its platform. Some 50,000 apps, reaching 80 millin devices, have been built on that platform.
It’s also a sign of how the operators, after years of watching companies like Twilio and Apple effective eat their app lunch, are finally starting to move faster to change things. TechCrunch understands that the entire deal to integrate the APIs was done in under 90 days, “a VERY significant change in how large networks, telcos, and carriers like an AT&T” normally work, said Spencer Chen, head of business development at Appcelerator.
What the deal will mean is that developers can integrate services like direct carrier billing, automatic speech translation and messaging services directly into their apps. These apps in turn can be offered through app storefronts like Apple’s or Google’s, or through private enterprise app strorefronts. For now, it looks like the speech API is the only one that works across different carriers; the others only work for AT&T subscribers.
AT&T and Appcelerator are not disclosing the financial terms of the deal, although the business model adopted by Twilio may be a good indicator of how this would work: AT&T will provide the API free of charge, but will charge usage of a service on a per-message or per-transaction basis, on a wholesale charge that may most likely be shared between AT&T and Appcelerator.
AT&T has been smart in its decision to focus on speech, messaging and payments as the first three to be offered to users: speech is one of the more sticky services to date, courtesy of applications like Siri on the iPhone; messaging remains one of the most popular data services on mobile; and direct operator billion has been demonstrated more than once to be the most effective way to get users to pay for services on a phone.