Verizon Wireless yesterday opened the doors to its Application Innovation Center in downtown San Francisco, and invited the press for a tour and some demos. VZW President and CEO Dan Mead and a handful of other execs from his company as well as the likes of Qualcomm and Chomp gave keynote speeches about the need to build hardware and software ecosystems around Big Red's 4G LTE network and other core technologies. Having opened a device-focused innovation center in Waltham, MA just last month, Verizon's now running the LTE race with both feet, offering incubator-type settings for startups and developers on both coasts: one for hardware and the other for software.

Our friends at VZW extended an invitation to yesterday's proceedings and so I grabbed my camera and crossed the Bay to check out the new digs. First off, the setting could barely be better, what with up-close-and-personal ninth floor views of the Bay Bridge, Treasure Island and the bay itself to inspire all sorts of communications-based mashups. As for the "labs" themselves, we're talking about a combination of biz dev and marketing offices and engineer-staffed areas dedicated to Content Feeds, Gaming and Entertainment, Network APIs and RF Testing. Verizon reps say the RF Testing room will allow developers to test their wares under controllable network conditions that can simulate everything from strong 4G LTE signals to peak network usage times to weak signals in a moving vehicle. The lab can also be used to test on Vodafone's European network, which could prove handy for a California-based entrepreneur with eyes on the global market.

What remains to be seen is whether the center turns out to be more about public relations than innovation, or if the hundreds, nay thousands, of mobile app devs in the SF Bay Area take Verizon up on what CTO David Small called a desire to foster collaboration and "tear down the walled garden approach that the wireless industry grew up with." Small also hinted at the space functioning as a recruiting tool for Verizon Ventures, the company's VC arm, and other company reps mentioned that they hope the center will serve to introduce developers and entrepreneurs to one another as well as to Verizon partners armed with money to invest and partnerships to forge.

Me, I was intrigued by the Network APIs area, which promises developers access to a treasure trove of network information as well as on-site engineers to help them best leverage the technology. A rep I spoke to also mentioned that devs are welcome to request new network APIs, and also serve as beta testers if/when those hooks are made available. I also got a big kick out of the Gaming and Entertainment area, particularly the demonstrations of Augmented Reality technology including Qualcomm's AR Toolkit, which you can see in the video embedded above.

Verizon Wireless isn't the only carrier to have opened a dev center like this, and we all know PR-friendly promises are a dime a dozen in this business. But they said some interesting things about wanting to work with developers and open up their network in the name of better end-user experiences, and at the end of the day that spells good news for corporate and consumers alike. If it comes true. We'll keep an eye on the center and perhaps drop in from time to time to see what's been cooked up and brought to market in VZW's new bayside center for innovation.