MWC 2014: IBM Targets App Developers With Watson Mobile Challenge

cloud apps

IBM challenges developers to build mobile apps that can deliver the power of Watson in the palm of your hand

IBM has begun a mobile app developer contest, designed to spur innovation and accelerate mobile applications on its Watson cognitive computing platform.

Announced 26 February at the Mobile World Congress (MWC) in Barcelona, Spain, the IBM Watson Mobile Developer Challenge encourages mobile developers globally to create mobile consumer and business apps powered by Watson. IBM is demonstrating its mobile and Watson capabilities at MWC, and company CEO Ginni Rometty is giving a keynote address today.

Mobile Focus

The move is part of IBM’s newly formed IBM Watson Group aimed at fuelling the push to get cognitive computing apps into the marketplace. IBM’s Watson cognitive computing innovation represents a new class of services, software and apps that analyse, improve by learning, and discover answers and insights to complex questions from massive amounts of disparate data.

“Mobile is leading the way for everything,” said Jerry Cuomo, IBM’s CTO for WebSphere, in an interview with eWEEK at the IBM Pulse 2014 conference this week in Las Vegas to discuss the challenge. “Mobile is the way developers think about building apps today.” Cuomo’s team is helping to support the challenge.

After its triumph on the TV quiz show “Jeopardy,” Watson has advanced from a game-playing innovation into a commercial technology. Using natural language processing and analytics, Watson processes information akin to how people think, representing a major shift in how massive amounts of data can be analysed, understood and put to good use, IBM said.

“The power of Watson in the palm of your hand is a game-changing proposition, so we’re calling on mobile developers around the world to start building cognitive computing apps infused with Watson’s intelligence,” said Mike Rhodin, senior vice president of the IBM Watson Group, in a statement. “Imagine a new class of apps that deliver deep insights to consumers and business users instantly – wherever they are – over the cloud. It’s about changing the essence of decision making from ‘information at your fingertips’ to actual ‘insights.'”

Connected World

Today, it’s second nature for people to simply tap an app to stay connected, make a purchase or manage a bank account. The IBM Watson Mobile Developer Challenge will encourage developers around the world to build sophisticated cognitive apps that can change the way consumers and businesses interact with data on their mobile devices. Through this initiative, mobile developers can take advantage of Watson’s ability to understand the complexities of human language, to “read” millions of pages of data in seconds and to improve its own performance by learning.

“This all stems from the notion of the API economy,” Cuomo said. “Back in earlier days, if you didn’t have a Website you were boring; today if you don’t have an API you’re boring. The way to run things now for a startup is to focus on what matters to your business and rent everything else.”

Cuomo maintains that there have not been many recent innovations at the level of Watson, so IBM is trying to jump-start the market for Watson-based mobile apps. IBM already has pledged $1 billion (£600m) to fuel the Watson Group effort and has earmarked $100 million (£60m) for venture investments to help new Watson-focused companies get off the ground.

Cognitive Computing

“The challenge is to unleash the cognitive computing capabilities out to the rest of the world so people can build mobile cognitive apps that leverage the ability to do natural language processing of speech,” Cuomo said. “Think about [Apple’s] Siri, and then think about Watson. If you asked both systems, ‘Which direction would you look to see wainscoting?’ what kind of response do you think you would get? With Watson, the answer would be ‘down,’ because you look down to see wainscoting [the wooden paneling that covers the lower part of the walls in a room]. With Siri, you get something like ‘Wayne’s World’ or ‘Wayne’s clothes.’ The difference is in being able to catch nuance and not just sift through content.”

Over the next three months, the global challenge invites mobile developers and entrepreneurs to share their best ideas for building and developing mobile apps into prototypes. Three winners will join the Watson Ecosystem Program. The winners will work with IBM’s recently launched global consulting practice, IBM Interactive Experience, receiving design consultation and support from IBM experts to develop a viable commercial app.

IBM WatsonThe IBM Watson Mobile Developer Challenge is part of the IBM MobileFirst strategy to help businesses of all sizes adopt mobile technology to better engage with customers and extend their businesses to new markets. The news also represents the latest milestone in the newly formed IBM Watson Group to fuel an ecosystem of developers, startups, tech companies and venture capitalists who are building a new generation of Watson-powered apps as part of the Watson Developers Cloud.

“We’re hoping to get more domain expertise,” Cuomo said. “The benefit for us is being able to sharpen the Watson ecosystem.”

Currently, more than 1,500 individuals and organizations have shared their ideas for creating cognitive computing applications that redefine how businesses and consumers make decisions. In fact, global developers have created and plan to go to market in 2014 with Watson apps across a variety of industries.

Using natural language processing and analytics, Watson processes information similar to how people think, representing a major shift in an organisation’s ability to quickly analyse, understand and respond to big data. Delivered from the cloud and able to power new consumer and enterprise services and apps, Watson is now 24 times faster and smarter with a 2,400 percent improvement in performance than the original version that won “Jeopardy.”

Named after IBM founder Thomas J. Watson, Watson was developed in IBM’s Research labs and is now being accelerated into market by the new Watson Group. As part of the group, IBM is investing $1 billion (£600m) to introduce a new class of cognitive computing services, software and apps. IBM said Watson’s ability to answer complex questions posed in natural language with speed, accuracy and confidence has the potential to transform decision making across a variety of industries, including health care, financial services and retail.

How is your IBM knowledge? Try our quiz!

Originally published on eWeek.