Operators Need Developers for Apps Ambitions
The report, "Mobile App Stores: A New Mobile Web?" says that winning developer support will be particularly difficult for operators because smartphone vendors have an established lead in attracting developers; there are many mobile operating system platforms to develop for; and there are a limited number of handsets that have operator stores enabled on them. (See Pyramid: Mobile Apps on the Upswing.)
Facing those hurdles, some operators have taken mobile app development into their own hands and started creating their own mobile apps to tap new revenue streams, notes the report. Many of the operator-developed apps are for the iPhone and Apple Inc. (Nasdaq: AAPL)'s App Store or Google (Nasdaq: GOOG)'s Android Market.
For example, Bouygues Telecom in France developed a mobile-TV app for the iPhone; Deutsche Telekom AG (NYSE: DT) has a mobile-banking app for the iPhone; TIM Brasil created a Rio Carnival 2010 app for Google (Nasdaq: GOOG)'s Android; and Vodafone Germany made a social network update app for Android, BlackBerry 's Blackberry, and iPhone devices. (See App Insights: DT Wages an App Attack and App Insights: VZ Wireless Lures With Ad Dollars .)
Other apps that operators have developed can save costs and network resources, such as WiFi hotspot locators. Another example is Telefónica UK Ltd. 's iPhone app that provides users with their mobile bill and tariff details, which can reduce customer care costs.
"With strong customer ties, operators are able to target and market apps, and they can leverage existing relationships to generate new revenue streams," writes Jan ten Sythoff, analyst at large at Pyramid and author of the report. "Operator apps can also enable differentiation and cost reduction."
Taking a WAC at app stores
The new Pyramid report, which compares all the different types of app stores and analyzes where operators stand in the app world, is particularly timely because the Wholesale Applications Community (WAC) is just weeks away from revealing its complete business structure and strategy. (See MWC 2010: Operators Form WAC Pack for Apps Push, Mobile Operators Strike Back on Apps , and Developers Weigh In on WAC.)
For a quick refresher, WAC is a group of 27 operators that are trying to develop a standard based on Web technologies like Mobile Widget that will enable developers to write applications that can run across all operating systems, devices, and networks.
It's a lofty goal, to be sure, but the report points out that it will be difficult for all the different operators in WAC to create one open platform for all developers. The members also have to agree on several different "policies and processes such as certification, testing, settlement and so on."
But the bigger challenge for operators is getting developers on board. "The biggest uncertainty, however, is an operator's ability to provide strong developer support," writes Sythoff.
Beyond the WAC initiative, the report gives high marks to operator app stores on criteria like free registration for developers and simple billing systems that are tied to subscribers' monthly bills. But operator app stores are not as good as the smartphone vendors' app stores in terms of the installed base of devices, variety of apps, developer support, and catalog management.
"The big question is how well and how fast can they address these issues," writes Sythoff.
— Michelle Donegan, European Editor, Light Reading Mobile