AT&T's Business App Center Deserves a Look

LAS VEGAS TheStreet -- Chris Hill started working for a phone company back in 1977. Today, he works for a business software company.

But the thing is, Hill hasn't changed jobs. He still works for AT&T ( T).

"Talk to everyone here. From the CEO on down, you won't hear a person talking about this business as a phone business," Hill said. "We are a business services firm. Phones help us do that, but we are a software services company."

I met Chris earlier this year while he was talking through AT&T's makeover on the balcony of a Las Vegas show hall. Stage crews at the Palms Hotel were hammering together a splashy new set below us. It was an apt setting to talk about AT&T's transition.
AT&T is set to unveil its business mobile apps center, hoping to capture the interest of entrepreneurs.

"We are not using all those tools," he shouted over the banging. "But that's what happening. It's a new set for us."

I get paid to give new ideas a full-dress rehearsal -- even the seemingly hare-brained ones like a phone monopoly deciding it wants to take on the Apple> ( AAPL) App Store on iTunes. So I let Chris, who's the vice president of mobility product management at the old Ma Bell, walk me through AT&T's notion of becoming a business app provider.

Chris broke down the logic. AT&T is big and can block and tackle for businesses navigating mobile markets. Then Chris cut to chase. The company got plum worn out of little developers pretending they know more about big phone systems than AT&T does.

"You do get tired of looking at the app of the moment and realizing those developers don't really get mobile networks," he said.

Fair enough. So, I promised Chris to give AT&T's business app ambitions a test drive.

On Tuesday, AT&T will formally unveil its business mobile apps center. My takeaway? While the business app initiative won't be a slam-dunk -- AT&T is, after all, going head-to-head with Apple -- the phone company just might be able to sell your business some mobile software.

Here's why.

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