Summary:

One year after making its debut at Mobile World Congress, the Mobile Applications Community — the group formed to encourage operator-led ap…

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One year after making its debut at Mobile World Congress, the Mobile Applications Community — the group formed to encourage operator-led app stores — has finally come up with a commercial product and a list of handset makers who will work to make it happen. Is the market ready and willing for another app store?

Mobile operators China Mobile, MTS, Orange, Smart, Telefonica (NYSE: TEF), Telenor, Verizon and Vodafone (NYSE: VOD) have all announced that they are now plugged into the WAC platform, in addition to operators such as AT&T (NYSE: T) which have already endorsed the group. This means that these operators will have released some of their APIs (for functions such as billing), and developers that use the platform will be able to integrate these services into their apps.

Meanwhile, the handset makers that have signed on to support the WAC platform are Huawei, LG (SEO: 066570), Samsung, Sony (NYSE: SNE) Ericsson (NSDQ: ERIC) and ZTE — all handset makers that are, for now, pinning their smartphone strategies on Google’s Android platform. Samsung and LG are taking their support one step further and making all future devices capable of supporting the platform.

The final piece in the build is the platform itself: Ericsson — in an extension of the many off-the-shelf type services that Ericsson has been building up over the years to sell to operators not wanting to invest in that kind of development on their own — has debuted a white-label, WAC-enabled storefront, which it claims can be “easily customised” by operators to launch their own-branded app stores. WAC says that there are already “thousands” of web apps available for these storefronts.

Will that be enough to encourage operators to invest in these services? And is there really an appetite for more app stores in the market today? If you can find the right niche — of people still not getting served by an app store already — the answer may be yes:

The WAC launch comes at a time when the apps market is still seeing enormous growth and interest among smartphone users. More established app stores from the likes of Google/Android, Apple (NSDQ: AAPL) and those that work across platforms like GetJar have continued to gain traction.

But newer entrants like Microsoft (NSDQ: MSFT) have been really proactive in promoting growth of its Windows Phone 7 Marketplace. According to figures released the other day from Distimo, Microsoft’s app store has grown the most in the last month: in January 2011, it grew by 30 percent, compared to the next-fastest, Android at 18 percent.

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