Vodafone Puts Its Apps in Gear

Vodafone Group plc (NYSE: VOD) is setting up shop in the ever-expanding virtual services mall with the launch of its own applications store, the global mobile operator giant announced Tuesday morning.

The move is a key part of Vodafone's plan to entice developers to create mobile Internet services that can be accessed from any device.

And as part of its new Internet services initiative, Vodafone is opening up its back office systems to third parties and enabling its partners and apps developers to bill consumers for services via the carrier's billing platform. Vodafone will also provide partners and developers access to customers' location information through a set of application programming interfaces (APIs) that will soon be released.

The operator says it will offer the new services on a revenue-sharing basis with developers and content partners.

The move pitches Vodafone into the same Web 2.0 market alongside existing apps store players such as Apple Inc. (Nasdaq: AAPL), Google (Nasdaq: GOOG), Nokia Corp. (NYSE: NOK), and BlackBerry .

Vodafone wants to make it easier for all of its 289 million customers worldwide to access and pay for mobile apps and content, regardless of the device used. With this new initiative, the operator hopes to offer Internet services in a more consistent way across all its markets.

"What Vodafone is trying to do is introduce a one-stop shop to access applications that can be run on multiple devices and multiple platforms," says Geoff Blaber, director of devices and platforms at CCS Insight . "Vodafone is in a strong position to reduce some of the complexity."

But can the operator attract developers to this scheme? Typically, developers work with the device manufacturers and platform vendors.

"The challenge operators have always had is that developers themselves will always target the source [i.e., the devices or platforms]," says Blaber. "That's not to say operators don't have a role in this space. But developers aren't going to belong to hundreds of different initiatives."

Vodafone claims its latest apps store plan is compelling for developers, which will have one point of access to all of Vodafone's customers, simplified payments through Vodafone's billing system, and faster time to market across different operating systems and handsets, according to the operator.

Vodafone's move builds on the work it has done with the Joint Innovation Lab (JIL) -- the Mobile Widget development program started by China Mobile Communications Corp. , SoftBank Mobile Corp. , and Vodafone, and recently joined by Verizon Wireless .

The first APIs will be offered through the JIL, which also plans to launch a software development kit (SDK) this summer. (See Recession Spoils Mobile Fun, Mobile Giants Team Up, and Verizon Joins Widget Initiative.)

— Michelle Donegan, European Editor, Unstrung

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