Two mobile application-enabling platforms — the Wholesale Applications Community (WAC) and HTML 5 — that aim to wrest the mobile app market from the proprietary grip of vendors like Apple and Google announced significant progress today. As with all things consortium- or standards-based, they’ll both need a tipping point — and soon — that turns them from curiosity to market force.
First up: WAC, which announced its commercial launch at Mobile World Congress today. What does that mean exactly? Well, it included a show of solidarity from a handful of high-profile CEOs from its now 68 member companies — as well as the unveiling of WAC-powered operator storefronts and demos of WAC-compliant handsets and apps.
In all, eight operators including China Mobile, MTS, Orange, Smart, Telef√≥nica, Telenor, Verizon and Vodafone announced they are “connected” to the WAC platform, giving their users access to more than 12,000 WAC-compliant (and today fairly basic Web-based) mobile apps that work across smart and feature phones. Meanwhile, hardware vendors including Huawei, LG, Samsung, Sony Ericsson and ZTE pledged to support the WAC runtime in future devices. App stores are also in the offing, not with WAC branding (at least initially) but via a white label storefront developed by Ericsson that can be launched and run by participating mobile operators.
WAC CEO Peters Suh described that progress as “valid proof points to the work undertaken by WAC since its inception.”
The issue is that those capabilities don’t match what rivals like Apple and Google offer in their app stores and mobile apps today. The Wholesale Applications Community is trying to remedy that, this week launching version 2.0 of the WAC spec — which adds HTML5 and multimedia capabilities — while also promising to add operator capabilities like in-app billing and user profiles in version 3, available in September.
In short, though, WAC remains more about promises to come then competing head-to-head with rivals today. And the bigger challenge:† those rivals are a moving target, adding new capabilities by the day as well.
In other mobile app dev news, the W3C today said it plans to finalize the HTML5 standard — which brings app-like capabilities to standard mobile Web browsers (and desktop Web browsers too) — by July 2014. Solidifying the HTML 5 standards path will certainly reassure Web and mobile developers that they can bank on a standard set of next-generation markup capabilities.
But like WAC, HTML 5 finds itself in “a race” versus more vendor-specific technologies that aim to “lock-in” developers to their platforms via flashy yet proprietary hooks. All of those platform vendors promise to support HTML5, but the concern is that — on the mobile side especially — HTML5 could be a lowest common denominator technology while the true innovation occurs (fragmented) platform-by-platform.