Widgets, web apps to beat mobile OS fragmentation

John C. Tanner
06 May 2010

Widgets and web apps armed with network APIs are the ticket to bridging mobile OS fragmentation, says the head of the operator-centric Wholesale Application Community (WAC).

The GSM-Association-backed WAC – formed by 24 cellcos in February – released details Wednesday on its plan to create a single harmonized process for mobile apps developers to create apps across billions of smartphones and feature phones, rather than lock themselves into separate OS-based ecosystems.

“The ubiquity of the Web is a core starting point to the write/submit once, deploy/sell everywhere scenario that developers have been asking for a long time,” said WAC interim chief and OMTP CEO Tim Raby during a conference call.

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. (Raby declined to comment on rumors that OMTP would be formally merged with WAC.)

Combined with the GSMA’s OneAPI project, which allows apps developers to leverage network APIs consistently – WAC’s JIL/BONDI specs will allow developers to create web apps and widgets with far richer functionality than before, Raby said.

“The issue is choice,” Raby said during a conference call. “If you want to develop an app for the iPhone, you only have two choices at the moment: you follow Apple’s rigorous process, or you write a web-based version for Safari and lose the richness you’d get if you write for the device. What we’re doing bridges that gap with a third choice: you can use your web assets and still provide a rich experience, and on a far greater scale.”

Raby added that WAC’s widget and browser-based apps strategy would complement OS-based apps storefronts rather than replace them.

“A lot of operators actually want Apple to continue offering its App Store, as well as Google and Android Marketplace and others, and end-users also want apps than run natively on their device because of better performance,” Raby said. “So we’re not mandating a replacement of those stores. But if you look at games, people play console games yet web games are also very popular. So there’s room for both.”

Raby also released the first details of its 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, Raby added.

Raby was vague on details, which he said will be released in July when the official WAC company is established and its board elected.

WAC intends to release its SDK and publish materials and documents for developers starting in September this year, and stage its first developer event two months after that, with the goal of officially opening for business at the next Mobile World Congress in February 2011.

What’s unclear as yet is how handset makers will respond. Only Samsung, Sony Ericsson and LG are officially onboard, although RIM and Sharp have pledged cooperation with WAC.

Rethink Research analyst Caroline Gabriel says that Nokia is likely to do the same, but Motorola and HTC will have to reconcile WAC support with their Android strategies, while Apple will likely go its own way.

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