Taking apps to the next level

John C. Tanner
17 Nov 2011

The apps landscape itself is constantly shifting as devices get smarter and technologies advance to create new capabilities - and as old platforms give way to new ones. Telecom Asia looks at the biggest trends shaping the apps business

Mobile OS landscape
The goalposts keep changing for developers. Also, even Alibaba has one now

The fragmented mobile OS landscape that apps developers must navigate is in flux, as existing OS platforms are being combined and even abandoned and new ones keep popping up.

This year alone we've seen HP abandon its WebOS platform, while both Nokia and Intel have abandoned the MeeGo OS project. Intel is now backing Tizen, a new open-source OS from the Linux Foundation and the LiMo Foundation that recycles some components of MeeGo and is based on the Samsung Linux Platform that LiMo uses for its open-source mobile OS.

Meanwhile, speculation about the fate of WebOS - and the possibility of companies like Facebook and Amazon taking it over - highlights the desire by content-driven companies to gain more control of the mobile OS platform rather than ride on top of someone else's.

ABI senior analyst Aapo Markkanen says Facebook needs its own OS because of the growing ubiquity of mobile social networking. "A huge problem for Facebook is that while on the web it is a platform, on mobile it's just another application."

Other web players are already doing just that. In July China's Alibaba Cloud Computing unveiled its own cloud-based mobile OS - dubbed Aliyun OS - as well as the first device that will run on it, the K-Touch Cloud-Smart Phone W700. Aliyun supports Android apps, web apps and cloud services such as email, search, weather updates and mapping/navigation tools, though the ultimate goal for Alibaba is to develop a smartphone strategy for its e-commerce business.

Also in July, Mozilla revealed plans to develop an OS called Boot to Gecko, which will be based on the Gecko engine that drives its Firefox browser. Development projects for Boot To Gecko include new web APIs linking OS and device capabilities like text, cameras, Bluetooth and NFC chips to content.

The good news is that there is some unification of sorts in progress, most notably Google's Android 4.0 - a.k.a. Ice Cream Sandwich - which brings the smartphone and tablet versions of Android into a single version.

"By creating a single version of Android, Google is making it easier for developers to modify their apps and take advantage of the larger screens of tablets, which should stimulate the creation of apps designed for Android tablets," Nick Dillon, devices and platforms analyst for Ovum, said in a research note.

RIM has done something similar with the recent launch of its new flagship BBX platform, which merges the BlackBerry 7 smartphone OS with the QNX OS for its PlayBook tablets. BBX will support BlackBerry cloud services and both native and HTML5 developer environments, as well as BlackBerry Runtime for Android Apps.

The bad news for developers, says Ovum chief telecom analyst Jan Dawson, is "the adoption of QNX across the entire line in the coming months and years also means that RIM is leaving its traditional BlackBerry developers high and dry." Dawson says existing developers will have no choice but to start from scratch with an entirely new development environment.

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