Carrier Consortium for Applications: A Train Wreck Waiting to Happen?

As most of you who have been following the mobile ecosystem know, this week is the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona. MWC is the premiere international conference for all things mobile. Think of it as the worldwide version of CTIA. Although attendance sounds like it is thinner than other years it seems that the general consensus is that mobile is here in a big way and its here to stay.

Maybe the most interesting of all the developments over the weekend was an announcement by 24 of the major mobile carriers – i.e. AT&T, Verizon, etc, to launch an open unified application platform. Application stores are a very important channel in the mobile world as we are increasingly seeing with Apples iTunes. This move by the carriers seems to put them toe to toe against Apple, but how will they compete?

Apple is already way ahead of the game and only has to deal with one or two devices. A unified app platform would be highly fragmented especially as the major players – i.e. RIM and Google have not stated that they are participating. Andy Rubin, Google VP of Engineering has already shared his skepticism, saying, “There is always a dream that you could write [a program] once and [have it] run anywhere and history has proven that that dream has not been fully realised and I am sceptical that it ever will be“. A Techcrunch article breaks down the real issues with this unified platform by outlining the following problems :

1.) Fragmentation – With so many devices to support you will always have to wait for your manufacturer to update the most recent version of the store. Even if they can solve this issue, developers will have to deal with so many different screen sizes and resolutions. This is already an issue for developers with Blackberry’s and Android phones, however the issue will get worse with a unified platform like this.

2.) Functionality – Overall we have seen that unified platforms like these work by trading off some of the functionality that the phones are capable of. This means that these apps will be fine for very basic tasks, but we already have a unified language for simple apps; HTML5.

I wont pass my final judgement until I see who decides to join the alliance. These are still early days for this group, however they will need more manufacturers than, Samsung Electronics, LG Electronics and Sony Ericsson in order to make this work and I doubt Google or RIM will join in given their focus on app distribution. I agree that it is scary to see a big player like Apple dominating the app distribution space and someone needs to get it ‘right’ for the other phones, but I do not think this unified approach will work.

On the note of interoperability, it is also prudent to note that Adobe has announced that it is bringing its Air platform to a number of mobile devices. If this is the case, Flash developers everywhere will be able to code applications in one unified language for all mobile phones. Once again only time will tell, but from an interoperability standpoint I would put my money on Adobe’s Air platform over this new Carrier Consortium.

What are your thoughts?

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2 Comments

Filed under applications, carriers, mobile, technology

2 responses to “Carrier Consortium for Applications: A Train Wreck Waiting to Happen?

  1. The only problem with AIR is that:

    a) It’s considered a memory hog, unless they have a magically awesome version for mobile

    b) Not sure if all those corps. are willing to just hand Adobe the keys to the kingdom.

  2. Ken’s right on the money about Adobe Air – the “write once, run anywhere” idea is nice in theory, but Air will never be a better alternative to native app development. Air is a big fat resource hog that deserves to be left in the dust.

    As for the unified app store announcement by the mobile carriers, I’d be shocked if it actually gained any traction. Without Apple, Google, or RIM involved, I can already see the tumbleweed rolling across its barren landscape. What’s left for this unified store? Win 7 phones? I’d be pretty surprised if MS allowed the carriers to get in on their action.

    The carriers have no business trying to create their own app marketplace; they’ll never handle it as well as each OS manufacturer can. Maybe I’m just skeptical because I assume that everyone else hates the telco carriers as much as I do, but I think this will be a bust.

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