At this morning's keynote address at Mobile World Congress, Ralph de la Vega, the CEO of AT&T's consumer & mobile group, issued a call to action for the industry to stop the operating system fragmentation and develop common APIs. The goal, de la Vega says, is to allow developers to make apps for multiple platforms so consumers will no longer be frustrated with apps that work on one device but not another. Mobile developers would also benefit because many cannot afford to develop for all platforms across all devices even though that is what consumers and carriers want.
I was disappointed that moderator Walt Mossberg of the Wall Street Journal quickly discounted de la Vega's comments--saying that the market would resolve itself just as the computing industry did several years ago. He also said that the operating system vendors will never go along with de la Vega's plan. While I understand the comparison, I'm not convinced the mobile industry will follow that same path as the PC industry.
The U.S. wireless industry has struggled with market fragmentation on several levels and market forces have not always been able to resolve those problems. De la Vega referred to the SMS interoperability problems that existed among operators prior to 2002 (consumers could only send text messages to subscribers on the same carrier network). That problem was finally solved with the help of operators, vendors and the CTIA. Of course, operators had great incentive to resolve the problem when their realized that SMS messages would skyrocket and data revenues would finally begin to surge.
On an even bigger scale is the network technology fragmentation that exists in the U.S. and never seems to find a resolution. We currently have CDMA and GSM. If Clearwire succeeds in building out its nationwide WiMAX network, we will likely have competing network standards in the form of WiMAX and LTE.
De la Vega recommends other carriers join the Open Mobile Terminal Platform, a carrier-dominated group supported by Nokia and Ericsson. The operators in the group currently include AT&T, Hutchison 3G, Orange, Telecom Italia, Telefónica, Telenor, T-Mobile and Vodafone. Of course, to truly address fragmentation problems in the U.S., this group would have to include other U.S. players such as Verizon Wireless and Sprint. Their membership is probably a long-shot in this GSM-dominated consortium, but at least it's a start in the right direction. I hope de la Vega's message, at the least, generates some momentum behind the standard API initiative. -Sue
P.S. Other tidbits from Mobile World Congress: Chinese vendors have a huge presence here, the show floor is hopping and the press room is crowded. And there is finally another Android phone...see our slideshow here.