10 Reasons Why ATandT Data Plans Harm Mobile Developers

By Don Reisinger  |  Posted 2010-06-07

10 Reasons Why ATandT Data Plans Harm Mobile Developers

All the debate over AT&T's new data plans have largely come to a close. The plans are set to go into effect on Monday, which means every customer will now need to live with them. But those that need to live with the changes go far beyond just customers.

Now, phone makers will need to keep them in mind as they prepare their phones for the market. Software makers, like Microsoft and Google, will also have to keep them in mind. But perhaps the biggest group that will feel the impact of the new plans, aside from customers, is the mobile-developer community.

Smartphones featuring mobile applications that allow consumers to take content from the Web and stream it to their phones partially contributed to AT&T's decision to do away with unlimited data plans. Not only did it increase the amount of content being pushed to each user's device, it also increased the amount of data that AT&T needed to accommodate. It was getting costly and putting undue pressure on its network. And it decided to do something about it.

All the while, developers now need to consider many more factors when creating applications for the iPhone, iPad or any other smartphone platform that's running on AT&T's network. Gone are the days when developers can simply create applications without worrying about the consumer's plans. Now, mobile development is different. And that won't change anytime soon. Let's take a look at why mobile developers stand to lose out with AT&T's new data plans.

1. Caps don't work in developers' favor

The main issue with data caps for mobile developers is that they don't have any way of knowing which consumers have the 2GB plan and which have the 200MB option. In other words, a video-streaming app might work best for those that have 2GB of available data, and be practically useless for those that have 200MB of available data each month. That's a problem. Developers need to know what they're playing with in order to make the best applications they can. When iPhone owners all had unlimited data, it was easy. Now, developers must create applications that accommodate even those with less data. That's a shame.

2. Consumers will be wary

Consumers will be wary of applications that use up too much data. After all, the amount of allowed data includes everything from surfing the Web to checking e-mail to using mobile applications. If consumers know that a particular application could reduce the amount of data they can dedicate to other applications, they might be less likely to use the respective program. That not only stymies a developer's ability to create useful, worthwhile applications, it also limits what consumers will be looking for. That won't play into any developer's favor.

3. Developers have more concerns

For developers, it goes beyond simply deciding whether or not an application will accommodate different plans. Now they need to think about their previous applications and see if they will lose popularity because of the new caps. They also need to consider the impact that the plans could have on those applications that they haven't released yet, but are working on. The mobile app market is changing now that AT&T has modified its data plans, and it's incumbent upon developers to now wait and see what happens before they make any decisions with their applications. That's unfortunate. 

4. Innovation could be difficult

Innovation could be stymied now that developers are forced to worry about data caps. After all, prior to the announcement of new data plans, developers really only needed to think about how an application would work on an operating system. But now that the new data plans are in place, they need to think about their limits. In other words, that neat idea that would have probably used up significant data might need to be put on the back burner until the developer can come up with a way to drastically enhance its ability to offer the same experience without being such a drag on the user's monthly data allotment.

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5. The future-unaccommodating?

Innovation is a key component in what the future will hold for mobile developers. Prior to the announcement of the new data plans, mobile developers literally had the world at their fingertips. If they could build it, they could bring it to any of the mobile app stores that they chose to support. It didn't matter. A key component in their strategies was video. Consumers are welcoming the ability to access more video on their mobile phones. But video takes up a lot of data. Those who want to try their luck on the future will now need to worry about how video will impact monthly data allotments. Simply put, the future is video. But video cannot be the centerpiece of mobile apps any longer.

6. Currently inefficient apps are available

Apple currently has over 200,000 applications available in its App Store. All of those applications were designed for iPhone owners who had unlimited data available to them. That doesn't necessarily mean that all the applications in the store will need to be revamped, but it's worth nothing that those applications that are data-heavy were not designed with caps in mind. That could come back to hurt those apps' developers. As mentioned, consumers might opt against apps that will run up their data charges. And considering so many apps weren't built with those caps in mind, that could mean fewer sales for some developers.

7. The iPad conundrum

AT&T's decision to cap iPad data is suspect, at best. For developers, it could be a major issue. The vast majority of consumers who have bought the iPad have done so for its usability and entertainment value. They know that whenever they head on the road or simply want to lounge on the couch, they can pick up their iPads and view entertainment content streaming over the Web. The only issue is, that content will now have a direct impact on the amount they pay each month. The more data they consume, the worse off they are. In the meantime, developers need to be concerned, as well. As they create more entertainment-heavy apps, how will consumers respond? It's a real problem.

8. Apple seems on-board

Unfortunately, Apple has said little about AT&T's plans to reduce data availability. Admittedly, there isn't much Apple can say. The hardware company has no control over how AT&T generates revenue, and the carrier's decision was based solely on its desire to improve its business. At the same time, Apple wields unprecedented power in the market. If it could find a way to put pressure on AT&T, it could help mobile developers. But so far, it hasn't. And that only hurts developers all the more.

9. It's not just Apple

It's worth noting that Apple and its developers are not the only stakeholders that are affected by AT&T's move. Since its data plans are networkwide, that means that BlackBerry developers and, soon, Android developers will feel the effects of its changes, as well. So, while Apple's iPhone and iPad get all the attention, AT&T's decision impacts every mobile stakeholder. AT&T has created an even playing field for any platform. Now it's up to developers to decide which programs will do the best job of adapting to the carrier's new demands.

10. They're not going away

Perhaps the worst part about AT&T's data caps is that they won't be going anywhere anytime soon. The company just launched them and believes that it's doing the right thing by offering the new plans. And considering the iPhone, as of this writing, is still only available on AT&T's network, it would seem that the carrier is forcing developers to play by its rules, or else. That's unfortunate. Mobile developers are all about creativity and getting the most out of products. Now that AT&T has capped data, they can't do that.

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