Developers cautiously optimistic about Verizon store

The carrier has hurdles to overcome, but it's moving in the right direction, they say

Mobile application creators at the Verizon Developer Community conference on Tuesday welcomed the carrier's plans for an on-device application store but said cross-platform consistency and other issues might pose hurdles for the project.

At the conference in San Jose, Calif., Verizon Wireless gave some details about its VCast App Store, scheduled for launch in the fourth quarter. Following the blockbuster success of the App Store for Apple's iPhone, as well as the launches of application shops from Google, Research in Motion, Microsoft, and other players, the nation's biggest mobile operator plans to make it easier for developers to get their applications out to mobile users. Its goal is to take applications from submission to commercial availability in less than 14 days.

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Details about the development initiative trickled out during the daylong conference. Verizon will provide APIs that give developers access to Verizon resources including billing, location, messaging, and presence. Those APIs will complement the existing SDKs for mobile platforms such as RIM's BlackBerry and Microsoft's Windows Mobile, Verizon said. Developers will get a 70 percent cut of the revenue from paid applications.

Verizon isn't charging developers to register on its site, and it intends not to charge for testing and certification of applications, said Roger Gurnani, senior vice president of product development.

"Their hearts are in the right place," said Morgan Belford, developer of Snikkr, a location-based application that recently became available in beta testing on RIM's App World. He may try to put Snikkr on the VCast App Store, too, but is concerned that Verizon will have a lot harder job than companies such as RIM or Apple, whose stores support only one platform. Belford is also waiting to see how Verizon handles promotion of the various products in the store. Traditionally, the carrier has provided heavy promotion for a few of the third-party applications on its phones and not for others. He hopes they don't play favorites in promoting VCast App Store offerings.

Belford isn't the only developer worried about how Verizon will handle the many platforms it will probably have to support. Jeffrey Baitis, a senior applications architect at RiffWare, wants to make sure the Verizon APIs for various phone types are consistent. Some features of Riffware applications have not been supported on all phones, he said. For example, one application had a camera function that worked on only 60 percent of handsets, he said. Riffware's current products include a guitar-tuning application and a tool for blocking unwanted calls.

Baitis was hoping to hear how developers could tell Verizon what capabilities need to be on the carrier's "white list" of requirements when it tests new handsets.

"Someone needs to manage that, so these kinds of things don't happen," Baitis said.

One software company working with Verizon that was featured at the conference reported a good experience so far. Music-streaming and purchasing application Slacker already appears on Verizon phones. Preparing the application to appear on Verizon wasn't all easy, said Slacker President Jim Cady, but the carrier was willing to take input from Slacker, make reasonable compromises, and implement changes rapidly, he said.

The moderately sized meeting sold out, which bodes well for Verizon's app store plans, as well as its intention to open a West Coast research center in Silicon Valley next year. The carrier already has one on the East Coast, where it's based. At the West Coast site, Verizon hopes to meet with some of the "best and brightest" mobile developers in the Valley, Gurnani said.