Sunday, May 23, 2010

Build Once, Deploy to Many

The mobile content applications sector presents entrepreneurs with an ever-widening target for fresh ideas. They need only to overcome the fragmented technology nature of the mobile industry itself.

Devices such as the iPhone and the Droid have redefined mobile phone capabilities, but device formats and software operating systems and carrier delivery platforms are silos within silos, each requiring a single, usually small, usually cost-challenged application developer to reinvent the wheel every time it tries to land its app on a new device.

For as many mobile phone manufacturers and carriers are out there, each has its own app store, chock full of ring tones, games and other productivity killers or enhancers (depending on the app).

The cost and labor required to create apps again and again for different phones likely has kept some developers out of the game. The Wholesale Applications Community is trying to open the gates for entrepreneurs flummoxed about how to achieve mass-market scalability.

At this year’s Mobile World Congress, a global alliance called the Wholesale Applications Community is banding together to create an open standard that developers can use to create applications that are device- and carrier-agnostic. According to the community’s Web site, the group aims to establish a simple route to market for developers and provide them with access to a customer base of more than 3 billion people.

The Wholesale Applications Community (WAC), which consists of 24 of the largest worldwide mobile operators and whose goal is to build a standards-based approach to mobile software development and deployment, said it expects to have that platform readied in time for next February’s Mobile World Congress (MWC).

Already, leading carriers worldwide have jumped on the community bandwagon, including U.S. carriers AT&T, Sprint and Verizon Wireless. Handset manufacturers including Samsung, Sony Ericsson and LG have also signed up. The group invites all ICT (information and communication technology) vendors to join, including operators and developers, handset manufacturers and Internet players. Only through cooperation, the community said, will the group succeed in creating “an initiative based on openness and transparency."

“We believe this model presents the most compelling format on the market where developers will thrive and customers will reap the benefits of greater choice,” the group noted on its site.

Such a step is a long time coming in the mobility space. For too long, developers have been hamstrung by the proprietary app dev requirements of individual carriers and handset manufacturers.

Apple proved that mobile app development can be highly lucrative. Imagine how much more lucrative those same apps could be if they were available to any mobile device, from iPods to Blackberrys. If the community is successful, it would be only a matter of time.

Apple hit upon a winner with its app store, and mobile carriers have never been known for their brotherly love toward one another (AT&T and Verizon are the latest to demonstrate this with their series of “you lie” commercials), so Apple may be smart to steer clear.

It will be something short of a miracle if the Wholesale Applications Community succeeds in its endeavor. The concept of “write once, run anywhere” is a compelling one, but it’s one that’s never come close to being realized in mobile. And thanks to the proliferation of new smartphone operating systems and an ever-increasing number of superphones on the market, there’s no chance the WAC will be able to change that. In the meantime, things could get interesting.

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