James Rosewell writes:
Mobile network operators have responded en-masse to the success of Apple’s App Store. Apple should be very concerned. The Wholesale Application Community (WAC) has been formed as a corporate entity today with representation from AT&T, China Mobile, Deutsche Telekom, France Telecom, GSMA, KT Corporation, NTT DOCOMO, SK Telecom, Smart Communications, SOFTBANK MOBILE Corp., Telecom Italia, Telefónica, Telekom Austria Group, Telenor, Verizon and Vodafone. Not many major Mobile Network Operators (MNO) are missing from the list.
Importantly a WAC developers roadmap and a preview specification will be published in September, with November seeing the first full release for developers. Technically the group appears to be building on much of the work performed by the Joint Innovations Labs (JIL), although it’s not clear whether JIL will continue as a separate entity. What is clear is that developers wishing to be among the first onto MNO application stores should start developing for JIL now in readiness for full SDK announcements in the Autumn.
It’s no co-incidence that Vodafone announced yesterday the end of proprietary Vodafone 360 devices. Vodafone 360 will certainly migrate to WAC standards and be offered across all compliant devices. Vodafone retail channels will focus on WAC compliant handsets and manufacturers. Other network operators will follow.
The “browser wars” in the late 1990’s arguably hindered the growth of the internet as developers, content owners and unconsciously end users were made to choose between competing technologies predominantly from Netscape and Microsoft. WAC establishing a common technology platform independent of handset and mobile network lines MNOs up against Apple.
Even if WAC does not gain immediate commercial success in 2011, the mere fact that MNOs who control the handsets connected to their networks have joined together in this way will enable them to negotiate with Apple from a stronger position. I’d put even money on MNOs gaining a revenue share from the Apple App Store's sales within 2 years. If WAC enjoys strong commercial success in 2011, Apple may even find themselves supporting WAC standards in 2012.
Alongside Smart Metering and the growth of M2M, the future of WAC and its impact on the mobile application store is one of the most important future developments in the mobile industry today.
To find out more about WAC, click here.
WAC held a webinar this afternoon enabling me to refine my thoughts and share further information which follows.
Key dates are Mobile World Congress (MWC) 2011 for the launch of version 1.0 to the public. Handsets will be available in May 2011 to the public and in volume by Christmas 2011. I therefore suspect it’ll be 2012 before WAC can start to enjoy commercial success. Critically WAC are trying hard to get developers on board. JIL currently has around 9000 Developers, according to Michel Combers chairman of WAC. WAC will need to ensure it has sufficient early Developer adopters producing compelling applications to ensure success. WAC seemed to recognise this is the hardest barrier to solve.
WAC appeared relaxed about other barriers. Significantly, sufficient volume of compliant handsets due to WAC building on existing web runtime technology already deployed in many handsets, having sufficient retailers/app stores onboard, and meeting the timelines mentioned above.
Importantly WAC is not in itself an application store but a shared “warehouse” for “retailers” to provide applications to its own customers. Initially retailers will predominantly be the member MNOs own branded application stores. However, with so many MNOs working together in the long term, WAC members will have to work hard to keep regulators at arms length. Transparency between WAC and MNOs will be essential to demonstrate genuine competition.
Finally, WAC remains a not for profit organisation initially funded by its members and based in the UK. As a UK technologist I'm delighted a UK compnay has the opportunity to shape the future of mobile applications on a global scale.