Comparing today's market fragmentation to 2002 when wireless carriers offered SMS to consumers without interoperability, AT&T President and CEO, Mobility and Consumer Markets Ralph de la Vega said that the industry is at a crossroads and called for dramatic changes to the ecosystem. Specifically, de la Vega said that the multitude of operating systems (at least nine), numerous device makers and swarms of application developers (and app stores) are creating what he believes are "islands of innovations" that will limit growth. "We are experiencing success, but it feels like 2002," de la Vega told a packed crowd during this morning's keynote address at Mobile World Congress in Barcelona.
If the industry doesn't do something about all this fragmentation, de la Vega fears that it will become stifled. Developers will have to spend more development dollars to accommodate multiple APIs and therefore apps will be more costly, customers will purchase fewer apps and carriers will have fewer applications to offer.
One way the industry can help avoid this type of situation, according to de la Vega, is to support standard APIs. For example, de la Vega said that AT&T is a member of the Open Mobile Terminal Platform, an operator-driven initiative, and its Bondi project, which is geared toward solving this fragmentation by ensuring Web applications can be developed across multiple platforms.
Unfortunately de la Vega's message seemed to bypass moderator Walt Mossberg of the Wall Street Journal. Mossberg implied that the market would sort this issue out as it did in the PC industry. Fellow panelist Steve Ballmer, CEO of Microsoft, agreed adding that he doesn't think that there will be nine mobile operating systems in 10 years and that a lot of the fragmentation issues will be resolved when that consolidation occurs.
However, Nokia President and CEO Olli-Pekka Kallasvuo said that he agrees that there needs to be less fragmentation and chastised Mossberg for lauding the Apple iPhone and its App Store, which is a closed ecosystem. "We need less fragmentation. That's why we have contributed to an open OS through Symbian."
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