Cell Phone Networks Gang Up on Apple, Google

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A is for apps—and agitated cell phone networks. They've formed a consortium in an attempt to fight back against the overwhelming dominance from Apple and Google in the smartphone market, and make some money from the mobile app market.

This week, the three-month-old Wholesale Applications Community (WAC) is to merge with the Open Mobile Terminal Platform (OMTP) and, with a little help from the world's handset makers, including LG, BlackBerry, and Samsung, try and put put the brakes on Android and iPhone OS's stranglehold in the arena. There's a smell of something in the air: I'm getting a base note of greed, with some subtle floral elements redolent of too little, too late.

The networks are running scared, ditto some of the handset makers. As well as seeing the amount of money that the app store is making Apple—it has sold over 3 billion in just 18 months—by the time that 4G eventually hits, mobile service providers will be nothing more than pipes through which the world's data is passed. Neither Google nor Apple share app revenue with the networks, whose profits are likely to be affected by the investment needed to upgrade its patchy service and slow speeds. And, hard as the folks at Nokia, Sony-Ericsson, and Samsung try, the iPhone and Android-based handsets look unstoppable.

In the smartphone market, the operating systems at the top of the tree are, surprise, surprise, Android, and the iPhone's OS. While one of every four smartphones is an iPhone, almost half of all Web traffic comes from the Android OS. And this is the crux of the argument: Apple has the must-have hardware to go with its operating system, while Google has the software and the agreements in place with the best handset makers. BlackBerry, for so long the only contender in the field, is lagging—although it's attempting to chart new territories with its software, its hardware just isn't good enough to compete. No wonder RIM is supporting the WAC.

First of all, however, the consortium, which is to be based in London, has got to choose its platform. It's doubtful that it will be any of the old favorites, such as Symbian, Bada, BlackBerry, Windows, and LiMo—Android and WebOS being obvious no-nos. The Guardian reports that WAC members have already settled on the JIL open-source platform, a co-venture between Vodafone, Verizon, Softbank, and China Mobile, founded in 2008.

The WAC claims that one of its aims is to enable developers to reach its soon-to-be three dozen members, but it's really about being a middle man. The networks—and many of the handset manufacturers—have realized that it's all about the apps and the OS these days, and not about the handset (although, in Apple's case it is). And how do you get the truly talented app developers, who love the iPhone's OS for its ease of use (not to mention the fact that it is the de facto number one company for talked-about gadgets) to migrate to a platform still in its infancy? It's just not going to happen.

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  • Alexander Hoffmann

    "[…] but it's really about being a middle man. The networks--and many of the handset manufacturers--have realized that it's all about the apps and the OS these days, […]"

    For the network providers it is the wrong realisation!
    By definition they are providers of infrastructure, why don't they concentrate on being just that? I'm going to go out on a limb here and say that this consortium will never ever catch-up with Apple and Google in this market.
    The middle-man train has left the station, and the only way to still reach it is a flying Ford Anglia.

    This act of desperation by two industries, which have been 'pwned' — literally — by Apple and Google, goes into the wrong direction. The members of the WAC still act like stubborn children that cannot "judge the situation dispassionately" — "take the ego out of the equation" so to say.
    That said, I have to commend them for agreeing upon a standard, while also having to immediately scold them for making JIL this standard.

    Here's some free advice for the WAC: Take a close look at HP, because they just bought the only other mobile platform that can take it up with the Android and iPhone OS.
    WebOS screams openness and web standard compliance.
    So stick your collective thumbs out and hitch a ride; it's as close as you're ever going to get to having a flying Ford Anglia.

    P.S.: The quote is a tribute to Dame Judy Dench, the metaphor one to Mr. Weasley.
    P.P.S.: Addy, what's with the use of American English ;) Fight the power!

  • Tyler Gray

    Ha! Kelly. You're right. We owe Palm -- or is it HP -- an apology. Fixed that, though. Thanks.

  • Mark Wickersham

    iPhone OS was originally simply called os X, as it has Darwin/OS X roots. They now call it iPhone OS. Palm, and now HP's,WebOS is completely different. It's great strength is in allowing web/css technology for app development. Android is, well, Android. Linux roots. Very open.

    How smart does a phone have to be before it's called a smart phone? A named OS, with the possibility of third party apps are a start. But large screen feature phones with multi-touch and j2me will muddle that definition.

    But your main point that the carriers do not wish to be merely commodity bandwidth providers is valid.

  • Kelly Olivier

    Hey author. Please don't ever call the iPhone's operating system "WebOS." Call up Palm and apologize.

  • Jeremy Fretts

    These folks should realize that part of the reason Android is so popular is that it's light years BETTER than the awful apps and OS that were being peddled by phone manufactures and networks. I love Verizon as a network, but their phone interface is not at all pleasant, frequently requiring the "dumbing down" of features native to the phones.