NEW ORLEANS—One of the more intriguing questions at Monday’s 5th annual Mobile Web & Apps preshow conference at CTIA Wireless 2012 was one that didn’t get answered.

Josh Rochlin, CEO of the 3-year-old mobile technology company Xtify, moderated a panel on developing, marketing and monetizing mobile apps. The session featured a panel made up of Ted Verani, senior vice president of Trilibis; Dan Lowden, vice president of Digby; Gary Yentin, CEO of App-Promo; and Derek Ting, CEO of Enflick.

The panelists focused on costs, discovery, mCommerce, security, the mobile web vs. apps and credit card relationships. At the end of the panel discussion and the question-and-answer session, Rochlin turned to the audience and asked if anyone saw a role for wireless operators in the mobile data world.

“Is there no role for the carriers here?” he asked. “Can they own the billing or own the store? I just leave that as an open question.”

That likely is a question the operators are trying to answer themselves because the carrier on-deck model hasn’t succeeded. And Monday’s Mobile Web & Apps World session focused on the mobile developer business model.

Digby’s Lowden said mCommerce is still a small market, but it is one that is growing because it offers interactions that other technologies cannot. It not only drives consumers to visit brick-and-mortar stores but gives consumers tools once they are in the store. 

Digby’s main product is its Localpoint Mobile Platform, which provides analytics based on shopping in physical locations, targeted location-aware mobile messaging and tools to help brands attract and influence customers. The company’s customers include brands like Bed Bath and Beyond, Cabela’s, Toys “R” Us, and Home Depot.

Lowden said mobile apps have become the “new loyalty card” that consumers will use because many of them use the mobile web or an app to shop.

Verani, of Trilibis, said the mobile web is the most cost-effective way to reach mobile consumers, especially with the advent of HTML5 coding. Getting a mobile website up can cost as little as $5,000 and up to $200,000 depending on what goes into the site. Yentin added that site maintenance also is an important consideration that will add to ongoing costs.

Ting, of Enflick, said apps might provide better interactions with consumers but that app development is more costly because they have to be built for each platform.

How do consumers use their smartphones to buy things? One way is by using a credit card, which MasterCard hopes to make more efficient with its OpenAPI Platform.

David Butler, the product manager for MasterCard Worldwide’s OpenAPI Platform business sector, said the credit card company uses the technology to help external developers build apps that enable mobile payments. MasterCard uses the technology to enable payments, send offers and use location. Google’s mobile wallet, among others, uses the technology.

“We’re particularly excited by payments possibilities,” Butler said. “The main aim for us is to form partnerships. We really want to work with developers to see how to extend these services and get feedback on ways to improve it. We’re not just a business-to-business company.”

Atif Hussein, CEO of a mobile payments company called Paidpiper, demonstrated the use of MasterCard’s technology with Paidpiper’s new smartphone app. The demo included the exchange of Hussein’s business card, with which he loaded $10 so that it could be used to make a purchase. The implication was this was an incentive to build customer loyalty.