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Summary:

A consortium of two dozen mobile players is looking to create a single platform that will enable developers to create a single build of their apps for multiple handsets. It’s a worthy goal, but it’s one that’s doomed from the start.

Tech circles are buzzing this morning with news that Apple has been ambushed by a consortium of carriers and handset manufacturers that have declared war on its App Store. But nobody in Cupertino is going to lose any sleep over the move.

The Wholesale Applications Community (WAC), as the group calls itself, is looking to “unite a fragmented marketplace” by creating an open industry platform that will serve as a single path to market for mobile developers, regardless of which platform their apps run on. The WAC plans to create standards to ensure apps run on all platforms, enabling developers to create a single build of an app that could be accessed on a broad swath of handsets. The group boasts some of the planet’s most powerful carriers, including AT&T, China Mobile, Deutsche Telekom, NTT DoCoMo and Verizon Wireless, as well as three major OEMs.

While that may sound like a panacea for an industry that admittedly is crippled by a plethora of mobile operating systems, the initiative is nonetheless doomed from the start. Carriers have a well-earned reputation for not playing nice with one another, and it will be impossible to herd all those cats, which operate a wide variety of different networks and platforms. And carriers have never been able to effectively cultivate developer communities or distribute apps, which led to the rise of Apple’s App Store in the first place.

More important, though, is the fact that some platforms are already hopelessly fragmented. Windows for years has struggled with the splintering of Windows Mobile, and Google is already suffering from the emergence of multiple versions of Android. Those fragmentation challenges have sometimes made it increasingly difficult — if not impossible — for developers to address a broad swath of devices within a single OS. Such problems will increase exponentially as the WAC tries to find a way to deliver apps to countless devices running any of a half-dozen (or more) operating systems. And they will only multiply with each new OS — or version of an established OS — that comes to market.

The concept of “write once, run anywhere” is a compelling one, but it’s one that’s never come close to being realized in mobile. And thanks to the proliferation of new smartphone operating systems and an ever-increasing number of superphones on the market, there’s no chance the WAC will be able to change that.

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  1. Haven’t heard this story before? Didn’t NeXT try it, and PowerPC, and OpenDoc, and… As long as size-obsessed, hyper-competitive men continue to run companies purely on the basis of short-term I’ll-be-gone/You’ll-be-gone self-interest rather than long-term mutual-interest, such advances are unlikely to succeed.

  2. The creation of a lowest common denominator standard to allow apps to run on all platforms will not work: Once all the OS variations plus all the hardware variations are taken into account application usability will be appalling.

    If we are going to get to a world where mobile applications run across a broad mix of hardware and software platforms then we will need a hypervisor for mobiles to hide all the variability from the applications. So far there has been much talk of mobile hypervisors but little action.

    One thing the App Store has proven is the demand for mobile applications and that a de-facto standard (iPhone) is better than nothing. That leaves the rest of the industry with a decision: Create real cross platform compatibility or accept that mobile apps will be the sole preserve of a small number of de-facto standards – Apple plus maybe RIM/BlackBerry for business apps.

    Martin Ingram (AppSense)

  3. well there is something called j2me (java mobile edition)…which is there since last 5 years ….looks like move to pressure apple

    1. There’s also this thing called HTML…

  4. Agree in tone with the article and comments (about write once run anywhere). However there are secondary issues here – the carriers also want to make use of network intelligence to “move up the stack” from being dumb pipe providers. I wrote a bunch here on how they will attempt this – important stuff http://stevecheney.posterous.com/twenty-four-companies-unite-to-kill-apple-huh

  5. Let’s not forget that we will soon be able to write Flash apps that will work on all platforms…
    I for one welcome the effort of carriers to help developers bring out apps for many different platforms. Should make it much easier.

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