WAC app-store alternatives open for business

The Wholesale Applications Community, which is going up against Android Market and Apple's App Store, has started providing storefronts for carriers to customise
Written by Ben Woods, Contributor

The Wholesale Applications Community, a carrier-led effort to create a pool of mobile applications outside existing app stores, has sprung into life with the launch of its first software and storefronts.

The question remains: to what extent will it displace native development on Android or Apple's iOS?
– Geoff Blaber, CCS Insight

In February 2010, 24 operators set up the group with the goal of introducing a simplified, common platform for developers to create apps that would be able to run on a range of operating systems, handsets and networks. On Monday, the now 68-strong Wholesale Applications Community (WAC) announced at Mobile World Congress in Barcelona that IBM, Ericsson, Huawei and a handful of other members have set up storefronts.

"With the commercial launch of operator storefronts, handsets and applications, all based on WAC, we can say that WAC is now officially open for business," Peters Suh, chief executive of WAC, said in a statement.

The industry alliance said that Samsung and LG handsets that are technically capable of supporting the WAC platform will do so in the future. In addition, Shenzhen-based manufacturer Huawei unveiled its first WAC-enabled mobile phone and accompanying app store on Wednesday at Mobile World Congress.

Alongside the WAC announcement, IBM on Monday introduced a storefront — built on its WebSphere Commerce software — that provides access to the 12,000 apps now in the WAC repository. As a 'white-label' storefront, it is available for operators to modify and use their own branding, so they can differentiate it from rivals' stores. Ericsson said on the same day that it is also offering a white-label storefront.

Alliance against Android and iOS

The carrier alliance is seen by some in the industry as an attempt to carve out ground amid the dominance of application marketplaces centred on operating systems, such as the Android Market and Apple's App Store. However, CCS Insight analyst Geoff Blaber believes that the WAC platform is not ready to go head-to-head with market leaders in attracting developers.

"The question remains: to what extent will it displace native development on Android or iOS? It certainly won't do, but what it does offer is a pretty good environment for basic games and applications such as weather feeds and tickers — entertainment based apps," the mobile device software research analyst said.

Blaber did acknowledge that the progress made in the past year by WAC is impressive, and the apps now being delivered are more advanced than some had feared.

"When it was first launched, it met with a large degree of scepticism because carrier initiatives involving a large number of operators with varying interests have not had a good track record in the past. But they've made some pretty significant progress in the past year," he said.

"If you see the applications on handsets that support WAC 1.0, they're pretty good. There are hooks into APIs, [and] the experience is a lot richer than a lot of people were expecting," he added.

HTML 5 support

The WAC stores and apps that have been launched are based on the initial WAC 1.0 specification. This year in Barcelona, the group announced the availability of WAC 2.0, which supports HTML 5. It also said that in version 3.0, due to launch in September, it plans to extend the platform to include "back-end network assets" such as in-app billing and user authentication.

The industry group could also find a competitive edge in that it provides a clearinghouse for developers and a central pool of applications for carriers, according to Blaber.

"What WAC does have to its advantage is that it is addressing fragmentation in terms of distribution as well as the runtime environment itself," he said. "As a developer you can publish to a 'warehouse', and then an operator can dip into that and take the applications that it needs. The developer, with WAC, doesn't have to be delivering applications at an operator-by-operator level."

WAC organisations

The WAC organisation has 68 member companies, including major operators and manufacturers such as Sony Ericsson, Vodafone, France Telecom, AT&T, Qualcomm and the GSMA. According to Blaber, the scheme is far more important to the carriers than to the hardware makers.

"If the operators are really pushing WAC, then it's in the manufacturers' interests to be supporting it," he said. "WAC is about ensuring that operator storefronts continue to be attractive for developers and, as a consequence, for consumers."

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