IBM Tries To Woo Mobile Developers With Watson Challenge


IBM CEO Ginni Rometty announced a Watson Mobile Developers Challenge Wednesday at the Mobile World Congress that aims to attract mobile developers and entrepreneurs to build apps that take advantage of its Watson cognitive computing platform.

"When I look at the mobile landscape I don't see it as a group of individual companies. I see it as a mobile ecosystem," Rometty said during her keynote. Rometty stressed that Watson wasn't a computer, but rather a part of the mobile ecosystem and a platform available via the cloud that she hoped mobile app developers would take advantage of.

The challenge is part of Big Blue's new IBM Watson Group, which it formed in January and is charged with commercializing the Watson technology. Rometty said IBM's goal is to create a new class of services, software, and apps that take advantage of Watson's ability to find answers by analyzing and deriving insights from massive amounts of disparate data.

Related: 9 Things You Need To Know To Be Successful With IBM

"Watson is a service, but now we are opening it up as an ecosystem. An ecosystem of content providers, software developers, and clients to build business on top of Watson," Rometty said.

As part of the Watson Mobile Developers Challenge, IBM says over the next three months it will select three teams with the best ideas and give them seed funding. Winning teams will also be given access to Watson engineers and consultants who will help them commercialize and go to market with their mobile apps.

Under Rometty's leadership IBM has sped up its transformation a hardware company to a cloud, software, and services company. Today, Rometty said, hardware accounts for about 10 to 15 percent of IBM's business.

Over the past year IBM has accelerated that transformation spending $2 billion on cloud platform provider SoftLayer and acquiring Fiberlink, a cloud-based enterprise mobile management company. Part of that transformation also included a selling its x86 server business to Lenovo.

Rometty told MWC attendees she wanted Watson to be a cognitive back end for mobile app developers and be part of their own application architecture. Rometty described a future of Watson technology for mobile apps as "cogs," or smart apps that link to Watson to carry out specialized cognitive tasks. Instead of looking up information at an e-commerce website, Rometty said, you'll just describe to a brand-specific cog app what it is you're hoping to accomplish and Watson will figure out the rest.

"People are going to start creating applications around Watson," she said during her keynote. "You'll have an app that will ask Watson to figure something out for you. You can think of them as apps, but they will be cognitive. This is not a search engine and not a table lookup. Watson makes conclusions, draws confidence, makes evidence, and learns."

Rometty said Google and Apple's Siri were very different approaches to cracking the cognitive computing nut. Another competitor to Watson's cognitive computing platform is Hewlett-Packard's Autonomy-IDOL, the rival company's big data offering. HP's Robert Youngjohns, senior vice president and general manager of HP's Autonomy/Information management, told CRN that HP's approach to cognitive computing is superior because it embraces very clear APIs and has nearly a decade head start on creating sentiment analysis geared toward developers and not data scientists.

In January IBM announced a $1 billion to create a new division called the Watson Group centered around commercializing its Watson supercomputer. IBM said the 2,000-strong group would be located in "Silicon Alley" in downtown New York and would seed development with $100 million in venture investments going toward startups and businesses building Watson apps and an ecosystem around the technology.

Rometty said it has already received thousands of applicants from developers seeking venture funding. But, Rometty said, "we are going to do a special one on the mobile developers side. We see Watson reinventing travel, concierge services, education, health and wellbeing, and retail."

PUBLISHED FEB. 26