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Summary:

Smart Communications, a wireless carrier in the Philippines, unveiled the Netphone, an Android-based smartphone that will be the first to support the Wholesale Application Community. The launch shows that the WAC effort is still alive but the odds are stacked against the effort.

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What started out as a far-fetched dream — to create a unified app platform that can run on any device, operating system and carrier — is finally coming to life, though its long-term prospects are still far from certain. Smart Communications, a wireless carrier in the Philippines, today unveiled the Netphone, an Android-based smartphone that will be the first to support the Wholesale Applications Community platform pushed by major carriers such as AT&T, Verizon Wireless, Deutsche Telekom and NTT Docomo, and is also backed by hardware manufacturers.

While the reach of the phone is limited initially, it is first chance to see how the WAC project fares in real life. The WAC grabbed attention at its launch a year ago because of its promise to let developers write a program once and have it run on any carrier, device or operating system. The announcement was met with skepticism because of the technical challenges of building a platform that can span so many devices and OSes and can unite the disparate interests of competing carriers.

This first example likely won’t dispel many concerns. It’s when we see more phones from other carriers able to easily run the same programs that we’ll see if the promise of WAC comes to life. But for now, it’s a sign that the platform is still moving forward.

The Smart Netphone will be powered by Google Android 2.2 with the WAC software managed by Red Bend Software, independent of the manufacturer’s hardware. The WAC platform will allow users to access widgets pushed directly through Red Bend. Smart and Red Bend plan to show off the Netphone and WAC widgets at Mobile World Congress next week.

The cards are still stacked against the WAC platform. There’s a lot of device fragmentation issues to deal with and plenty of competition from more app markets. And as web apps become more robust, it’s unclear if there’s a need for a system of delivering universal widgets when the browser can be that mechanism. And as Android devices move down market, it will only raise more questions about the need for WAC. I’m sure we’ll hear more in the coming weeks and months but this still seems like a tough sell.

Related research on GigaOM Pro (sub. req’d):

  1. The limiter here is that it’s a Widget platform controlled by the carriers. The widgets via a web run time engine get access to the devices capabilities. The carriers control that access.

    The browser has nothing to do with the WAC or the web runtime engine. It’s a standalone wrapper AKA phone gap that allows you access to the device.

    The elephant in room here is obvious – the browser is where the real action is – but and it’s a big but – it’s an ARPU leaker. In as much as that the content providers make the money and the carriers get nothing.

    So plan B is to control access to the devices capabilities and funnel all of that through a single channel.

    Problem is that there’s no business model to a widget, hence the WAC will struggle.

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  2. “And as web apps become more robust, it’s unclear if there’s a need for a system of delivering universal widgets when the browser can be that mechanism. And as Android devices move down market, it will only raise more questions about the need for WAC. I’m sure we’ll hear more in the coming weeks and months but this still seems like a tough sell.”

    We COULDN’T agree with you more if we actually wrote this article ourselves! We have a solution TODAY that solves this “soon-to-be-acknowledged” problem with the “build-an-app-for-that” approach (and then support & deploy in a cross-platform environment, we refer to it as the “Death App Matrix” as opposed to Dev App matrix, a more apt description in our humble opinion).

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  3. “And as web apps become more robust, it’s unclear if there’s a need for a system of delivering universal widgets when the browser can be that mechanism. And as Android devices move down market, it will only raise more questions about the need for WAC. I’m sure we’ll hear more in the coming weeks and months but this still seems like a tough sell.”

    We COULDN’T AGREE MORE with this statement if we wrote it ourselves! The horse is already out of the barn and carriers have now decided to close the barn door to enhance their fleeting relevance. Just as Apple’s “walled garden” approach is doomed to implode, so will this latest “effort” by the carriers…

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    1. Sorry for the double post…

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  4. [...] as they try to capitalize on an estimated $15 billion in app sales expected this year. Carriers and manufacturers are pursuing their own stores while big retailers like Amazon have announced plans for their own [...]

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