Four giant cellcos to create unified developer platform

Japan's Softbank has joined the now established partnership of Verizon Wireless, Vodafone and China Mobile in promising the world's largest mobile developer platform, outdoing those controlled by individual vendors.

The big three are already combining their weight in LTE and other areas in order to be a dominant force in setting standards and controlling the evolution of the mobile internet, as well as in purchasing.

Now they are joined by a cellco from the most innovative nation in terms of mobile software, Japan. The quartet says their initiative will make it easy for developers to create widgets for their combined base of about one billion customers worldwide.

The project will be based on the Joint Innovation Lab (JIL), already established by China Mobile, Softbank and Vodafone and now adding Verizon. The JIL will initially focus on creating a single developer platform focused on widgets, the most popular way to deliver mobile software and web services on modern smartphones, and suited to midrange and basic webphones too, which will be important in China, in particular.

Later this year, a series of tools will be launched, including a common mobile widgets specification, easy-to-use developer kits, an online widget repository, and distribution and payment mechanisms to help programmers roll out their apps in more than 70 countries across north America, Asia, Europe and Africa. The obvious gap in this list is Latin America, and we may be sure the partners are courting Telefonica to add to their global profile.

The JIL mobile widgets specification will enable developers to access specific handset and network functionality such as the address book, camera, location information and billing in a secure environment, to support more complex applications.

It will cooperate with standards bodies like the OMTP and the GSMA on their specifications. This is clearly a move to put operators in the driving seat in terms of mobile web apps, and one of the big decisions will be whether their tools are fully platform-neutral, or favor a particular software system (the participants have all been vocal in supporting Android, and all but Verizon also work with Symbian).

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