@ MEM: Vodafone Bets On Web Widgets, Not Apps

As the rush to launch app stores risks a nuclear arms race in app standards, Vodafone (NYSE: VOD) is almost alone in placing faith instead in the one great standard digital media already has – the web. While everyone fell over themselves to copy Apple (NSDQ: AAPL), Vodafone – together with Verizon (NYSE: VZ), China Mobile and Softbank – last year launched Joint Innovation Lab, a scheme to develop web-based apps.

“At Mobile World Congress, every platform provider was announcing an app store,” Vodafone internet services director Pieter Knook told Mobile Entertainment Market ’09 in London on Wednesday. “There are too many platforms – for the developers to write apps that work on all these different platforms is challenging.”

Instead, JIL members want to be “writing applications in the browser“, Knook said: “For a large catalogue of apps – particularly those like stocks and weather – the browser run-time is perfect for that – (then) you’re out of writing for Windows Mobile, Android, S60, each of which require testing, a commercial model. We’re not in that game, we want to abstract that. All the cool innovation is happening inside the browser – you don’t need to the native operating system anymore … Every high school graduate can write a Javascript widget – which is certainly not true of the C++ that you need to write an app store app.”

This all seems to ally quite nicely with Google’s efforts to popularize HTML5-based web apps – but when will we get there? After customers’ next 18- or 24-month upgrade cycle, Knook reckons: “In two years time, the majority of our customers will have access to web run-time.” For now, Vodafone is picking Opera over S60’s own browser for these widgets: “we’re not exclusively committed to Opera – it’s just the first browser that implements this really well.”