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Vodafone (s vod) is hoping to hold onto customers with an ambitious new mobile web service that includes a cloud-based address book, full-track music downloads, app store and integration with social communities such as Facebook and Twitter. Vodafone 360 — which sounds strikingly similar to Nokia’s (s nok) Ovi — will be available across a variety of handsets including two new phones from Samsung: the H1, a high-end device with a multitouch screen and 16GB of memory slated for a European release in time for the holiday season, and the less-powerful M1, which will follow the H1 to market.
Whether Vodafone can effectively expand into the world of mobile web services is unclear, however. It faces stiff competition in the increasingly crowded app-store space, where platform developers, carriers, manufacturers and even third parties fight for developers’ attention. And as Apple (s aapl), Nokia and others have learned, building out mobile web services and cloud-based offerings is no easy task. Vodafone’s vision of an all-inclusive, carrier-branded mobile web service is ambitious and impressive. And its goal of embracing a two-sided business model that leverages the “smart pipe” for third-party app developers is savvy. But fulfilling those visions will take the kind of flawless execution that’s extremely rare for mobile operators.
Interestingly, the first two Vodafone 360 devices will run the LiMo operating system, providing a much-needed boost as the OS vies for market share amid higher-profile platforms such as Google’s (s goog) Android and Nokia’s Symbian. The LiMo Foundation also used the occasion to tout upcoming launches of LiMo-based handsets this year and next year from Verizon Wireless, NTT DoCoMo (s dcm) and Orange, among other operators. (Vodafone 360 will also be embedded on some Symbian handsets and will be downloadable for other devices.)
The mobile web service is part of a major new marketing campaign for the carrier, which boasts 315 million customers in 31 markets. Vodafone is hoping to dust off its image and strengthen its customer relationships as manufacturers such as Apple and Nokia increasingly target their devices and services directly at consumers. Vodafone certainly has the footprint to compete as we move into the era of the mobile web — but it will need a fair amount of dexterity to do so.
Here’s a video of the company announcement:
This article also appeared on BusinessWeek.com.