BLOGGER: ANDY WESTON
Back before mobile phones got ’smart’, operators developed multi-billion dollar businesses based on apps and content that had nothing to do with messaging, calling or social networks. The ringtone, wallpaper and java applications market was worth $3 billion back in 2006. And long before the iPhone and the App Store, over 100 million copies of Tetris had been downloaded to mobiles.
The current excitement around iPhone and Android apps is re-invigorating that market and taking advantage of new handset capabilities including accelerometers, GPS, larger memory and fast Internet access. But with that comes a huge headache for the operators.
Regular mobile phones followed variations of a similar development environment. In the US, Qualcomm’s BREW gained momentum, whilst in EMEA/APAC it was Java (J2ME). And although differences between screen-sizes and java implementation meant small customizations were needed to run applications well on every device, there was at least a common platform. The operators merely held multiple versions of an app on their mobile portal and had the subscriber choose the right version for their handset. They then took a rather large cut of the download revenues.
Compare that to today where Apple, Google, Blackberry, Samsung, LGE and Nokia all own their own app stores. These heavily promoted direct offerings compete with offerings from operators (e.g. Vodafone 360, O2 Active). The development environments are radically different across at least 12 smartphone operating systems (iOS, Android, WebOS, Symbian, Windows Mobile, MeeGo, LiMo, Bada, oPhone, Blackberry, Java (J2ME), BREW). These use different coding languages, development toolkits and testing and deployment models.
Developers therefore face the challenge of selecting the right operating system for their target audience and of expanding their coverage to as many operating systems as they can afford to develop and maintain. Developing for iPhone, for example, covers only 3% global device market share, leaving 97% of your potential users out in the cold.
Operators on the other hand want to find out how to access the lost revenues that have been diverted from mobile portal downloads to the app stores. This is a challenge that all operators are fighting. Even the largest global carrier groups have struggled to get their development standards off the ground, and to date have not delivered a realistic cross-operating system application store.
But fortunately there is a saving grace on the horizon since 2.8 billion mobile devices already have HTML-based browser support. As mobile Internet access speeds improve, the mobile Web becomes a more attractive option for delivering cloud-based applications, and with HTML5 being adopted widely in 2011, an ‘app-like’ user experience can be achieved in the mobile browser. It is this standard which gives the operator a big advantage over operating system-specific app stores. By using HTML5, operators can build cloud-based mobile services – these can be adopted by all smartphones and delivered directly by the carrier to the consumer, thereby wrestling control of the payment mechanisms away from the operating system app stores. So a commitment to supporting HTML5 has the potential to return some of those lost revenues to the operator’s balance sheet, making HTML5 the aspirin of choice.
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