MWC: Mobile Operators Unite To Challenge App Stores

A consortium of 24 mobile operators has announced plans to launch an open platform to help developers build and distribute applications “irrespective of device”

Twenty-four of the largest mobile network operators from across the globe are banding together to build an open application platform, which they hope will challenge the dominance of Apple’s App Store.

On the first day of Mobile World Congress (MWC) in Barcelona, the group of operators – including AT&T, China Mobile, Deutsche Telekom and Vodafone – have announced that the so-called Wholesale Applications Community will enable developers to easily build and distribute apps, “irrespective of device or technology”.

The mobile applications market is currently very fragmented, with Apple, Blackberry, Google, Nokia, Symbian and Microsoft all offering their own app stores. This requires developers to submit different versions of their applications to each individual store.

The Wholesale Applications Community aims to tackle this by developing a common standard for applications over the next year. It explained in a statement that this would help to unite developer communities and provide them with a simple route to market.

“Developers want to meet the largest possible addressable market, as efficiently and painlessly as possible, and the Wholesale Applications Community initiative can meet these criteria by providing a simple, single point of access to a large number of operator storefronts,” said Jonathan Arber, senior research analyst at independent analyst house, IDC. “The initiative should also help to drive uptake of existing, open standards among developers, operators and manufacturers, thereby reducing fragmentation and benefiting the whole industry.”

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Between them, the 24 operators have in excess of three billion customers globally. They are also working with the GSMA and three of the world’s largest device manufacturers – LG Electronics, Samsung and Sony Ericsson – to help develop the platform.

“The GSMA is fully supportive of the Wholesale Applications Community, which will build a new, open ecosystem to spur the creation of applications that can be used regardless of device, operating system or operator,” said Rob Conway, CEO and Member of the Board of GSMA. “This is tremendously exciting news for our industry and will serve to catalyse the development of a range of innovative cross-device, cross-operator applications.”

The news has been seen as an attempt by mobile operators to seize back power and revenue from vastly successful application platforms such as Apple’s App Store. Apple has already seen more than 3 billion apps downloaded from its App Store by users of the iPhone and iPod touch, according to the Guardian, and recent research suggests that the launch of Apple’s iPad tablet PC may cause a further spike in third-party developers building apps for the Store. The App Store currently has close to 100,000 applications.

Meanwhile Google’s Android Marketplace, which launched in October 2008, hit the 20,000 applications mark in December. The data, compiled by AndroLib, found that the number of new applications and games contributed to the app store each month has been steadily increasing, with 3,544 contributed in November alone. However, some commentators say that Google has a lot of catching up to do if it expects to be a serious competitor to Apple.

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