Why the WAC Is Whack

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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Image courtesy Flickr user Horia Varlan.

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