In a first for US mobile carriers, Sprint has opened up an initial set of REST services for developers to play with for free at their new developer sandbox. With these services (Sprint API profile), developers can now access location, simple presence, and send SMS messages to Sprint handsets without requiring any software installed to the device.
This allows prototyping of web or mobile applications that query Sprint users and mash that up with other data. For example, developers could create tracking apps for families, groups or businesses, text the users when they go out of bounds, or if remind them if they are in range of a location or a commercial service. Or by adding-in weather information, developers could push weather warnings according to dynamic location with simple service calls. Developers can use any language to make the service call, and any platform, so if they wanted they could even develop an iPhone app to query Sprint handsets.
The location service returns lat/long positioning data accurate within 100 meters, which is better in the cities since it relies on tower triangulation location. As an example application on Sprint's developer site, they offer a Google mashup of a very simple map with a user location (shown above). There's also a presence service, which simply indicates the phone is on or in network range, and an SMS service to send a text and get the status of the message.
Carrier privacy policies require a type of opt-in notification to the services by the "trackees." Trackees receive an initial text requiring an opt-in. The trackees can opt-out at anytime at the Sprint account management web site. And just to be sure, the trackees get a text message monthly reminding them that they are being monitored. So no anonymous tracking is allowed.
On Sprint's developer sandbox the first 250 API calls per day all free, but for better performance and more calls, commercial access is available through an arrangement with one of Sprint service partners, which effectively act as "bucket" shops for purchasing access. Initially these services are fairly basic and the performance on the free Sandbox is not at the same level provided by via the for-fee commercial access. There are non-REST APIs that are richer. But for free, you can get an idea of what you could do with accurate location mashups that require no clients on the handset.
These REST services access only Sprint customers now, but Boost Mobile may be added in the future. And longer term, these services may ultimately extend through Sprint's partners like Cricket and Virgin. It will be interesting to see how this evolves and how other US carriers begin to create open REST-based developer platforms.
Nan Hickman is a technology strategist, architect and professor who is currently working on the book, "Open Strategies for Enterprises" for FutureText.