Cloudy future for widgets and web apps

John C. Tanner
Telecom Asia

The rise of apps storefronts has been a double-edged sword for the mobile content ecosystem. While Apple's success with the App Store has set the template for rival smartphone platforms to create apps channels and retail platforms, it's also resulted in a situation that both apps developers and the mobile industry had been trying to avoid for years: fragmentation at the handset level that forces developers to write multiple versions of apps that can run on iPhones, BlackBerry devices and rival smartphones running Nokia's Symbian, Google's Android, Microsoft's Windows Phone and Samsung's bada, among others.

At this year's Mobile World Congress - where keynote speakers either voiced their concern over the fragmentation issue or insisted that the problem was practically unsolvable, as no existing OS player was likely to fold anytime soon - a group of 24 cellcos announced a new initiative targeting the fragmentation problem. Backed by the GSM Association, the Wholesale Application Community (WAC) revealed its intention to create a single harmonized process for mobile apps developers to create apps across billions of smartphones and feature phones by essentially focusing on widgets and web-based apps.

The WAC announcement was vague on specifics, as the initiative had been finalized literally hours before its first press conference. In May, however, WAC revealed some more details on its strategy, timetable and potential business model.

WAC interim chief and OMTP CEO Tim Raby confirmed that the organization will build on specs already developed by JIL (Joint Innovation Lab) and OMTP (via its BONDI standard), with the intention of combining their widget framework standards into a common spec.

But the secret weapon that could make mobile widgets compelling to both apps developers and consumers is the OneAPI, the GSMA initiative that allows apps developers to leverage network APIs consistently. WAC's JIL/BONDI specs combined with OneAPI will help developers create web apps and widgets with far richer functionality than before, and for a far larger market - namely the billions of feature phones that don't use smartphone OS platforms.

Raby also released the first details of WAC's proposed business model, which will involve revenue sharing for everyone in the value chain - from the developer to the retailer and the cellco - and WAC itself, although WAC will operate strictly on a non-profit basis. The WAC business model will also include a B2B option for cellcos offering up their network APIs and customer-care capabilities.

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