Sprint Tackles Browser-Based Apps
Sprint was one of the founding members of the Wholesale Application Community, which is looking at using Web-based technologies like Mobile Widgets to unify app development. But, it's taking a divergent approach and going straight to the browser with the goal of making it easier to build mobile apps that can run across operating systems and device form factors. (See MWC 2010: Operators Form WAC Pack for Apps Push and WAC Beefs Up Its App Pack .)
The carrier has tapped Openwave Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: OPWV) to supply the backend software for the storefront, which has the catchy name Browser-Value-Added Service Ecosystem.
The store will be launched in the first half of 2011 across Sprint's 3G network. The companies didn’t say what kind of apps will be available, just that they will be "similar to what exists within the application space today." Mobile search and discovery app maker Taptu was the only named developer testing the service today.
Openwave's pitch is that due to fragmentation in both hardware and software, developers can't ensure apps will port between platforms. It's a well-documented and real challenge for developers. (See OS Watch: Android Earns Its Reputation, CTIA 2010: OS Watch Hits CTIA, OS Watch: Samsung, Sony Ericsson Ditch Symbian, Juniper, Lehman & OS Frag Wars, OS Watch: Facebook Phones It In, OS Watch: Operators Want Their Own OS, OS Watch: RIM Regrets & iPhone Instructions , Android’s 5 Flavors of Fragmentation, and Android’s Fragmentation ‘Problem’.)
Is the browser really better?
Yet, while it's a real challenge, not everyone is convinced the Web is the right solution. Joachim Ritter, director of mobile solutions at Java developer ProSyst Software AG and head of AndroidFragmentation.com, isn't bullish about the opportunity for carrier-driven app stores nor the potential of any "write once, read everywhere" app ecosystem.
He says that ProSyst created a Web run-time app for Sprint three years ago, but was never able to push it into the market because of resistance from Google (Nasdaq: GOOG) and Sprint's other partners.
A cross-platform app store would clearly compete with Google's own, Ritter says, so the software giant told Sprint they'd lose its branding if they went that route. Now, three years later, he doesn’t see them having more luck bypassing the OS creator.
"I don’t know why a customer would choose a carrier app store when there's so much more content on existing ones," he says. Hardware differences will always limit the browser, which also precludes developers from tapping into the unique functionality of each device, he adds.
Still, carriers want a piece of the app action and they're working hard to find the right balance between fragmentation and differentiation, as well to entice developers away from the likes of Google.
Sprint opens up more APIs
As part of its bid, Sprint also gave developers access to more application programming interfaces (APIs) today, organized in a unified Web portal, similar to Verizon Wireless 's recently launched portal. (See Sprint Opens Up More APIs and Verizon Reveals 'Open Access' Details.)
Developers can use the site for access to information, video, demos, customer testimonials and use cases on all of Sprint's services, including new location services from AirSate and Location Labs, bar-code scanning from ScanLife, and a machine-to-machine development platform from Bug Labs. (See Sprint Opens M2M Center.)
Sprint will also add analytics for developers from Ground Truth and Bango.net Ltd. to the mix.
The carrier's browser ambitions are one of many outlets by which it plans to target subscribers with apps. In addition to its WAC involvement, it recently introduced Sprint ID, its packs of personalized and branded apps. (See Android Transformation, CTIA 2010: Sprint Finds an ID, and Sprint Announces Sprint ID.)
— Sarah Reedy, Senior Reporter, Light Reading Mobile