Carriers team up in apps battle

Two operator-backed software groups have joined forces in an effort to give carriers more heft in competing with Apple and Google apps.
The Wholesale Applications Community (WAC) and the Joint Innovation Lab (JIL) say their planned wholesale apps ecosystem will be open for business by February 2011.
JIL chief Peters Suh was named CEO of WAC, which was registered as an official company at the start of this month. JIL – a joint venture between China Mobile, Softbank Mobile, Verizon Wireless and Vodafone – has been involved with WAC since its unveiling at the Mobile World Congress in February this year, along with the OMTP (via its BONDI standard).
Michel Combes, CEO of Vodafone Europe, was elected WAC chairman, and France Telecom deputy CEO Jean-Philippe Vanot was named as vice chairman.
OMTP CEO Tim Raby said WAC aims to create a single harmonized process to allow developers to create apps across smartphones and feature phones, rather than lock themselves into separate OS-based ecosystems
WAC will serve as the wholesale platform for retail app stores and provide developers access to any storefront on the platform.
It will also provide testing for developers to ensure apps comply with its specs, and serve as a middleman for operators to pay developers.
Users will have the option to pay by credit card or direct billing to their mobile phone account, with WAC taking a small cut of each transaction to cover the cost of running the platform and providing testing services.
Raby said WAC will stay neutral when it comes to pricing and revenue splits. Developers will have the power to name their own price and decide which operators to work with.
It will also be up to developers and operators to negotiate the amount of the split.
WAC will stay out of the process completely, Raby said. “Because we’re looking at doing this on a global scale, setting a fixed price or revenue sharing arrangement would be very difficult,” he said during a conference call.
“We think it’s better for the developer to have the power to value their own asset and set the price based on whatever market forces are in play in that particular market.”
Raby added that while the 70/30 split in favor of developers is a common arrangement, markets with a heavy prepaid base and no strong banking infrastructure tend to prefer splits that favor the retail storefront.
“It’s much better to have market forces determine that, because the developer is more likely to do well than lose out.”
Raby also said WAC intends to evolve the business model to include common APIs for billing, location-based services and other network assets, and support for advertising revenue.
WAC will also be working with device makers to develop compliant handsets, with the aim of having the first demo devices supporting WAC 1.0 by February 2011 and commercial devices available in May 2011.
Raby also said WAC will be backwards-compatible with handsets supporting existing BONDI 1.1 and JIL 1.2 specs, which will give operators a larger base of handsets to work with.
All WAC related specs – which specify Web-based widget frameworks for mobile – will be based on W3C standards.
WAC intends to release its SDK and publish materials and documents for developers starting in September this year, and stage its first developer event in November.