WAC stores to co-exist with major app stores

Carrier-backed mobile app stores operated by Wholesale Applications Community sustainable but face challenges such as limited app functionality due to apps' "write once, run anywhere" trait, say industry analysts.

Telco-supported mobile app shops established by the Wholesale Applications Community (WAC) can co-exist with existing app stores operated by platform owners such as Apple and Google, but not without some challenges, say analysts.

Comprising 68 members from the telecom industry as well as handset manufacturers, WAC aims to provide a "wholesale" platform offering apps that are developed to run on multiple devices. It was commercially launched at last week's Mobile World Congress in Barcelona.

In a phone interview with ZDNet Asia, Marc Einstein, industry manager at Frost & Sullivan, noted that WAC app stores are able to co-exist with other major OS-specific app stores in the short-term period. A vast majority of mobile phones are not supported by an app store, Einstein noted, adding that out of the 1.6 billion phones shipped last year, only about 300 million units were smartphones.

Daryl Chiam, principal analyst at Canalys, concurred that WAC app stores can co-exist with major app stores. To compete with existing app stores and boost the use of WAC app store, Chiam said operators need to ensure the store comes preinstalled in the phones they sell.

Based on its latest specifications, one of the benefits WAC apps are touted to offer is billing integration with the operator's network--a capability many app stores currently lack, he said. WAC app stores also allow operators the opportunity to resell apps and increase their mobile revenue, he added.

However, Chiam noted that all is not rosy for the WAC ecosystem. He explained that developers will need to sacrifice user experience for "write once, run everywhere" apps to cater to the different platforms. To address this challenge, he suggested developers figure out how to increase user engagement.

Einstein added that players involved in promoting WAC need to ensure there are enough compatible devices in the market to support demand for its apps.

Market in developing markets
According to the Frost & Sullivan analyst, a bigger opportunity for these carrier-supported app stores lies in the developing markets. He noted that emerging markets are not as saturated with app stores, specifically, Apple's App store or Google's Android Market. A previous report from Frost & Sullivan noted that smartphone sales in the Asia-Pacific region accounted for 54 percent of total devices sold in 2010, up from 9 percent in 2009.

George Huang, vice president of Huawei Software Technologies, concurred.

In an interview with ZDNet Asia, he noted that the WAC platform can offer more apps for mobile users in emerging markets as most of them cannot afford expensive smartphones.

However, Huang believes that WAC app stores can also persevere in developed markets and compete against existing app store operators by offering users a wider choice of applications.

He added that app stores can co-exist, pointing to operators such as China Mobile and China Telecom which have included applications from Nokia's Ovi Store in their own app stores.

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