Following its recent purchase of ProgrammableWeb, the telco equipment giant today announced it has bought OpenPlug, a maker of mobile software development tools, for an undisclosed sum. (See Alcatel Buys OpenPlug and AlcaLu Buys Some API Smarts.)
When application developers write their apps using the OpenPlug software suite, AlcaLu's execs say, the developer can then natively render those apps specifically for any major mobile operating system and -- very soon -- Web tablets, IPTV systems, Internet-connected TVs, and other devices, too.
That "natively render" bit is important.
Laura Merling, VP of AlcaLu's developer platform and related programs, says other developer tools use "lowest common denominator" coding when they translate apps written for, say, an iPhone to work on, say, a Blackberry Curve. That lower quality approach, she says, often robs the app (and the customer) of certain functions and features, resulting in a disappointing experience.
By contrast, Merling says, OpenPlug natively translates apps into the five major mobile operating systems. That's supposed to be a major coup for application developers, because it means they can write an application once and render it to work simultaneously on the world's most popular smartphones and the world's growing base of "feature phone" users in emerging markets.
For AlcaLu, the point of OpenPlug -- and the early acquisition of ProgrammableWeb -- is to help telcos reach a point where they can foster the development of apps for a wide variety of devices on their networks. The more apps the telcos can create and enable on the phones they support, the more likely customers will be kept satisfied and not tempted to defect to a competitor with flashier hardware.
Also, telcos who take control of the application ecosystem on their networks aren't as likely to lose control of their customers to devices makers, as AT&T Inc. (NYSE: T) so willingly (and ignorantly) did with Apple Inc. (Nasdaq: AAPL).
The downside? Well, all this write-once-run-anywhere magic does tend to make each new phone built seem a little less unique, so there's bound to be some latent tension here between device makers, such as Nokia Corp. (NYSE: NOK), and AlcaLu, which is now investing in making everyone's phones act just the same on their telco customers' networks.
But the opportunity to help phone companies get to a point where they can run the same apps across their entire portfolio of mobile phones is worth ruffling a few Finns, is it not?
There are also some future scenarios about which AlcaLu seems excited. Indeed, apps developers may soon want to write applications for consumer services to run on iPads, IPTV set-tops, smartphones -- essentially reaching consumers on every device imaginable. "The meeting I was in yesterday was all about connected cars," says Special Agent Merling, who was on the line with Light Reading from an undisclosed location (it sounded like a bakery) in Singapore.
For a more complete picture of what operators are doing in the area of application enablement, and how vendors such as Alcatel-Lucent are trying to help, please check out the following stories:
- AlcaLu Shows Off Its Apps Abs
- AlcaLu Touts Bundled APIs
- AlcaLu Bundles Mobile APIs
- Mobile Operators Strike Back on Apps
- AlcaLu Turns Apps Broker
- Telcos' App Problem