Shipping Included? AT&T To Let Apps Pick Up The Data Tab

Smartphone-FreeShippingCall it a toll-free number for mobile apps. Or free shipping? AT&T executive John Donovan spilled to The Wall Street Journal yesterday that it was looking into a way to have app developers pick up the data tab. Donovan did not say that any and all app developers would be automatically charged for data coursing through their programs. But he did suggest that developers could promote their apps to consumers as zero-usage downloads where any video or rich media consumed would not be counted against the consumer’s data plan.

Donovan positioned the idea as a way for marketers to appeal to cash-strapped smartphone owners who are seeing their allotted bandwidth erode throughout the month. “If you take this app, this app will come without any network usage,” Donovan characterized the offer to WSJ.

With all-you-can-eat data plans rare among the top-tier providers of smartphones like AT&T and Verizon, watching the data ticker is a real issue for many people. AT&T thinks that as a user gets closer to the end of the billing cycle, with precious few megabytes left to spare, app makers would be more likely to be noticed and get downloaded.

Well, yeah -- or just wait until they get to a WiFi hotspot.

The idea is likely going to be as dumb as it sounds. In the end, it is another attempt by an ISP to extract more money from the content providers because they are having trouble getting more from the consumer. No doubt AT&T needs to help finance a massive 4G build-out, but this doesn’t seem like quite the way to do it. And it is hard to see which app makers or brands would be willing to pony up cash in the hopes that users would engage their app more willingly because it doesn’t impact the data limits. Worse, how do publishers manage this in an app ecosystem that spans multiple carriers and operating systems? Ugh!

Our biggest fear is that AT&T is only suggesting such a model because it knows something we don’t about the rising costs of data and how it might be planning to make us pay ever more dearly for that peerless 4G experience.   

But it is difficult to see how they get consumers on their side. It isn’t as if this scheme really saves a user money, except in overages. They still pay a monthly rate. If they want to do something serious for consumers, then let marketers sponsor a data plan. Leave it to AT&T to come up with an idea that offers no real value to developer or consumer…only to them.

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