Device operating systems

Smart Success for WAC

The Philippines' largest wireless operator, Smart Communications Inc. , is providing the first proof point for the Wholesale Applications Community (WAC) in the form of its own branded smartphone, the Netphone, unveiled Monday ahead of Mobile World Congress.

The phone will run Mobile Widgets, developed to WAC specifications, that will be independently managed over the air by Red Bend Software . The Android 2.2-based phone, built by ZTE Corp. (Shenzhen: 000063; Hong Kong: 0763), will run the widgets in the browser or as integrated services in the phone's operating system.

And any early appetite for widgets is already being met. Lori Sylvia, VP for Red Bend Software, says that Jollibee, a local fast-food chain, has built an app that integrates with the user's address book to let them fire up the menu, place an order, have it delivered and even pay for it through Smart's own Smart Money mobile payments service. Smart then receives a cut of the transaction revenue.

As the WAC comes out with more widgets, Red Bend will push them over-the-air to the Netphone and other Android and Brew MP-based phones as Smart expands its line of branded devices. (See Red Bend Launches MSM.)

Smart Communications' Netphone

Sylvia expects this to be the first of many WAC deployments announced this year.

Why this matters
Applications development strategies are critical to the future of the world's mobile operators, and the WAC has been talking up its potential since it launched a year ago, so there's plenty of interest in its progress. (See MWC 2010: Operators Form WAC Pack for Apps Push.)

Many in the industry have questioned how the WAC will provide compelling mobile apps when it's encumbered by a number of large wireless operators working together. The group has been plugging away on apps for the past year, so having an operator deployment to reference is a positive step.

Smart is the first mobile operator to launch a WAC widget experience, and its approach (with a branded device) is worth monitoring as it's ambitious -- and possibly a bit risky.

It's notable that Smart isn't building an entire WAC-based store front, but rather building the widgets into the OS. That way, the store won't compete with Android Market on the Netphone. For its consumers, it's just a value-added service, and for Smart, it should be a way to pull in extra revenue.

The hardware business model may prove trickier for Smart, though. Selling a phone that competes with other handset makers is a strategy that hasn't worked for companies such as Google (Nasdaq: GOOG) with its Nexus One, but, as a wireless operator, Smart will have control over how it's promoted and incentivized. It remains to be seen if offering unique, integrated WAC-based services will encourage consumers to buy the phone too. (See Google Nixes Nexus Web Sales.)

For more
The WAC was introduced a year ago at MWC. For more on its progress since then, check out the following stories:

— Sarah Reedy, Senior Reporter, Light Reading Mobile

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