It wasn't hyped like an Apple developers' conference, that's for sure - but Verizon's Developer Conference held today in Las Vegas included some very big announcements from the largest mobile carrier in the US.

The company announced the availability of 20 different network-level Application Programming Interfaces (APIs) concerning device user location, messaging APIs that will enable new types of user experiences and the availability of push notifications through a startup that provides rich-media mobile push as a service. Innovation-minded mobile developers we talked to agreed - these are intriguing offerings.


Photo by John Spinney

Carrier Level Location Data

"Carriers already know where every phone is (to 1-2 mile accuracy in the worst case) but there has previously been no way of getting that information unless you go talk to the carriers and try to strike a deal - which of course the little guys have no way of doing," says Aaron Parecki, co-founder of a startup called Geoloqi, which is targeting a bleeding edge practice called Geofencing. "I haven't heard of anyone making that available via an API yet."

The other advantage to getting access to this device from a carrier, instead of from an app on a device? "That's the holy grail of cell phone location," Parecki says, "because it doesn't require the user to start an app to track themselves. It's 'always on' after they start using it the first time."

While developers, marketers and others may be thrilled at the prospect of easy, programmatic access to passive, persistent user location data, users may be more cautious in their enthusiasm. Consumer response will likely depend on how effectively best-practices emerge and how compelling the apps that get built on these APIs prove to be.
"It's great to see carriers making location data available," says Adam Duvander, author of the book MapScripting 101 and Executive Editor of API directory and news blog ProgrammableWeb. "It's time to open up the knowledge of the network. With proper privacy controls, access to location data will open up opportunities for passive, contextual applications, regardless of device."

Duvander's caveat ("with proper privacy controls") is an important one, however. While developers, marketers and others may be thrilled at the prospect of easy, programmatic access to passive, persistent user location data, users may be more cautious in their enthusiasm. Consumer response will likely depend on how effectively best-practices emerge and how compelling the apps that get built on these APIs prove to be. The vast majority of mobile location services people use today are opt-in, explicit about sharing location selectively in a one-off fashion.

The blog Duvander edits, ProgrammableWeb, happens to be owned by Alcatel-Lucent, a major telephony middleware provider now focusing substantial energy on what it calls Application Enablement, or carrier-level APIs similar to what Verizon appears to be offering. We've asked if Alcatel was involved with the Verizon announcement today and have not yet received a response. (Note that Alcatel is also a long-term sponsor of ReadWriteWeb, and I wrote the Forward to the company's recent book about Application Enablement. Again, I have no idea if Alcatel is involved with or competing with this Verizon news.)


Photo by Laura Diaz

Messaging and Push Notifications

In addition to the location APIs, Verizon also announced the availability of messaging and push notification features as a service in the Verizon Developer Community. Portland, Oregon startup Urban Airship was selected to power push notifications, and is offering push with a multi-media payload. (Our previous coverage of Urban Airship.)

A Verizon App Platform

Verizon is not known as a great platform to develop apps on. This developer conference received almost zero press coverage - the exact opposite of what we see from the best-known mobile app platform on the market, Apple.


Above: RWW's Jay Cuthrell took an old iPhone to the Verizon Developers Conference.

Every other carrier wants a piece of that action, though. Rich push and messaging APIs are probably a must-have, and may be one area in which other carriers could beat AT&T/Apple's clumsy implementation of Push.

Carrier-level location APIs though are just-plain hot, though - from a developers perspective.

Can Verizon combine market leadership, superior wireless coverage, a more compelling price-point (for inferior phones) and an ambitious developer strategy to win some hearts and minds? Who knows - but hopefully we'll see developers pushing the envelope to build some inspiring new technology with these new technical capabilities.