BONDI hopes to flush away mobile app woes

Applications are like plumbing running through mobile networks; if everything looks the same, the experience is going to be better for the end user.

"Everybody likes to have a different house, but all the people like to have the same pipes in the house," said Roger Entner, head of telecom research for Nielsen.

On its most basic level, BONDI is the solder that bonds the pipes by standardizing the infrastructure for applications developers, service providers and users. The initiative is an open-source industry collaboration for widget and Web technologies driven by the membership of the Open Mobile Terminal Platform (OMTP) association.

BONDI is "an endorsement of W3C (World Wide Web Consortium) standards for browsing and widget downloads," said Tim Rabi, the OMTP's managing director. "That means a lot of things that already exist (and) it means a lot of things that are currently in draft."

BONDI's job is to define appropriate application programming interfaces (APIs) based on JavaScript so programmers have a common platform on which to write, Rabi said.

"JavaScript is the language of the Web rather than the language historically or currently of mobile," he said. "As the standard Web is moving to mobile, people want to access things like the camera, the GPS, the address book, the messaging interface, the voice interface physically in the phone or physically in the network. What we're doing is defining those APIs specifically for JavaScript programmers."

BONDI's other major piece is a security layer that allows or disallows access to APIs. Thus, a service provider, IT manager or end user could forbid an application to access a particular interface on a phone.

"In the U.S., it's likely to be an operator because that's the way the market works," said Rabi. "BONDI doesn't define who does this; it's not a technical issue, it's a commercial and legal and regulatory" issue.

That, said Entner, is probably a necessary ingredient for any initiative like BONDI. He said that although carriers want to open up networks, especially around data, "they have to figure out how to do that without killing their revenues."

AT&T is a major BONDI supporter. Indeed, Ralph de la Vega used his appearance at the recent Mobile World Congress trade show in Barcelona, Spain, to push the industry toward accepting BONDI's stipulations. However, the operator's position is notable given its concurrent support for Apple's iPhone and App Store; Apple has largely eschewed standardization in favor of its own approaches.

Standardization throughout the process will speed the development of new applications, BONDI proponents argue. And adding API controls will keep those applications from aversely affecting end users and overwhelming carriers. BONDI security, Rabi said, mimics how computer virus protection programs determine what applications are safe to load.

"The way this will practically work is that people can create APIs quickly on their own and integrate them with BONDI. And the committee that owns BONDI (the OMTP) every year will add more applications into the BONDI core so that it will grow," he said.

The idea of standardizing the process--and the fact that OMTP lists members like AT&T, Hutchison 3G, Orange, Telefonica, Telenor, TIM Italia, T-Mobile and Vodafone--has Entner's tacit approval.

"Standardization always helps," he said, calling the OMTP's membership list a "pretty good quorum there. On one level standardization kills innovation; on the other hand it makes it way easier to realize things and commercialize things."

"OMTP is the standardization body for now (but) it's not quite what we do," Rabi said. "We have the consensus from multiple companies that this is what's required (and) various companies are going and implementing this in the commercial space to make money out of it."

It's happening pretty fast, too, since the first BONDI release only became public in January and the whole BONDI plan was unveiled less than a year ago.

"This is the whole thing with BONDI ... it's about creating an API which many people can implement and even more people can use," he said.

Kind of like adding a specialized kitchen faucet over a standard pipe.

"This helps to put standardized plumbing into the content business," said Entner.