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Orange plans SPV bugfixes, and developer info for Q1

But it's positioning itself as app-signer and publisher in chief...

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In response to prodding from would-be smartphone developers Orange has issued a statement outlining its policy as regards application signing and bugfixes for the Orange SPV. The statement, published in full at MoDaCo.com, is guardedly vague in parts, and Register sources tell us there's more where that came from - but there's enough to be going on with.

The final paragraph is the key one:

"Orange is committed to working with third party developers, and understand that developers and their applications will be essential to the success of the SPV - without these applications, customers will not get the best out of their SPV. However, to protect it's customers from malicious or corrupt applications and to protect the value generated by application developers, Orange has opted to implement security measures on the SPV. Orange is working towards launching a website early in the New Year to assist SPV developers. The site will detail how a developer can get their application digitally signed, how to get an application published on the Orange download site and also explain how a developer can get an SPV for development purposes."

This makes it clear that there will be no retreat on application signing, and that Orange will be calling the shots. It's also probably bad news for developers, because they'll have to mark time until whenever "early" is. They also presumably won't be able to get development hardware until then, and the reference to getting an application published makes it pretty clear that Orange has decided to position itself as both approver and publisher of apps.

Whatever the rights and wrongs of this, signing is becoming a serious issue on mobile phone platforms, and is going to be present in some shape or form in the offerings of other networks and manufacturers. And if the manufacturer does it there's no guarantee that the network won't superimpose its own procedures as well; there's every prospect for a series of rip-roaring turf wars over ownership of the development and publishing channels. One obvious get out for application developers is, of course, to produce sandboxed Java apps that aren't going to interfere with anybody's nice network - this is probably the easiest route for smaller developers who just want a quiet life, but is exquisitely ironic from the point of view of Microsoft Smartphone developers. It's also a difficult route for developers with existing PocketPC apps they'd like to move over to Smartphone.

Register sources meanwhile say Orange has implemented its signing policy in response to demand from business customers, who view the ability to restrict the apps running on their handsets and networks as an absolute requirement. Slightly puzzlingly, our sources also say Orange is categorising the SPV as a business phone, and actually envisages something rather different for consumers, at some point in the future.

To our recollection Orange hasn't made this entirely clear in public so far, and if it is a business phone it's a bit of a puzzle why Orange pushed it so hard at retail. This push however seems to have ceased, at least for now. The handsets were originally priced at a little under £200, but where they were in stock they were generally available for considerably less than that, shortage or no shortage.

Orange's own site is currently "out of stock", and the SPV does not seem to have made it as far as Carphone Warehouse, which had intended to sell the phone. We're told that Orange ordered a production run of 200,000 of the SPV, so one begins to wonder where these could be, and whether they mightn't be waiting for a few software fixes before they hit the stores.

As regards these fixes, Orange says it hopes to issue one round through Orange Update before the end of the year, and another before the end of Q2 next year. The timescale does kind of suggest the company hasn't entirely got its act together here - up to six months between fixes means the first one had better hit quite a lot of spots. But we very much doubt it'll turn out to be that leisurely a cycle.

Related stories:
Orange, not MS, is SPV smartphone app-breaker in chief

Build a business case: developing custom apps

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