Big things are coming from the Mobile World Conference being held in Barcelona this week. One of the major announcements came on Monday, when 24 of the world’s leading telecommunications networks – including Verizon Wireless, AT&T, and Sprint – released a joint statement announcing the formation of the Wholesale Applications Community. The WAC is described as “an alliance to build an open platform that delivers applications to all mobile phone users.” Their goal is to bring cohesiveness to the mobile phone community, both to users and the networks that host them. The idea is still fresh, but is already facing skepticism about the effect the community will have on networks, carriers, and consumers.
The Wholesale Applications Community will be a worldwide application store, similar to Apple’s App store, but available to a number of networks and mobile phones – not just the iPhone. When launched, the Community will serve more than 3 billion customers from all parts of the world.
In theory, the thought of having a single application store is appealing – but is it truly feasible? Currently, different devices – even on the same network – have different application stores due to differing hardware and operating systems. For instance, a Blackberry user on Verizon cannot download an application made for an Android-enabled phone (also on the Verizon network), because the hardware isn’t compatible.
Developing apps that function across multiple hardware platforms poses quite a challenge for developers who may have only been developing apps for certain phones, such as the iPhone or Android. They will need to learn and implement a different developer language. Shortly after Monday’s announcement from Barcelona, CNN’s Doug Gross points out, “Systems like Google’s Android have been more open, but the project by the mobile companies will be the biggest push yet to lure developers away from official outlets to a third-party distributor of apps.”
If and when the community launches, they’ll have a long way to go to catch up with Apple, which hosts more than 140,000 apps in its popular App Store, with more than 3 billion downloads to date. With the anticipated release of iPad’s app-enabled platform this spring, those numbers will increase even more.
Not everyone is happy about this news. Comment threads on CNN and Mashable show mixed reactions from customers, most notably concerns over the security risks such an open environment may bring. The reason Apple’s App Store is so successful (and safe) is because they hold developers and applications to a high standard, and screen each submission before it’s formally introduced into the store. With the draw of profiting from a so-so app that may not pass Apple’s standards, things could get risky. An anonymous commenter on CNN’s story wrote, “Nobody seems to understand one thing, by controlling apps, Apple shields their users from shady developers and from scam artists.” With little information to how the Wholesale App Community will run, consumers have a right to be concerned.
With little information to go on, it’s hard to predict just how this new alliance will pan out. Google’s VP of Engineering, Andy Rubin, told the Guardian UK that he’s skeptical the community will even become a reality, telling reporter Richard Wray, “I just hope that the people who are managing that [WAC] really understand technology deep enough to fulfill that promise, because it’s an awfully big promise.”
The WAC formed with good intentions, but it may be too early to tackle such a big task. Though technology is increasing at a rapid pace, many of these wireless carriers aren’t able to accommodate such a large investment of resources and bandwidth that many apps require. Perhaps these carriers should focus individually on creating a single language that can be understood across multiple platforms, including Apple and other apps stores, to finally make that cohesiveness a reality.
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