Operators launch anti-Google WAC
But no killer API 'til September
MWC 2011 The operator-backed Wholesale Application Store has launched commercially, with eight operators and 12,000 apps, but developers will have to wait for the APIs that make the platform unique.
From today customers can buy basic Ajax applications from the eight operators that have launched them, namely: Vodafone, AT&T, SMART, Verizon, Telenor, MTS, Orange and China Mobile.
However, applications won't be able to pick up dates from the calendar and contacts, or local files, until WAC 2.0 – announced today with the hope of going commercial in May. For in-application billing, developers will have to wait until WAC 3.0, which won't even be made public until September. So for the moment, the WAC only offers basic applications to customers of the eight operators, who can now buy basic WAC applications for download onto Android handsets.
Which isn't the point, of course. WAC apps are supposed to run across platforms thanks to their AJAX base. That will come, as will more operators, but most importantly will come the APIs that enable WAC applications to do things that can't be done on any other platform.
Chief among these is in-application billing, integrated with the operator's payment systems – including pre-paid. Even more impressive, if a bit scary, is the ability to pick up the user's details from the network operator – such as the home address for automated form filling. We're promised that suitable security will be in place and we look forward to examining how that's going to work.
But those features don't come until WAC 3.0, to be published in September, which is a shame when that's the capability the competition doesn't have.
The WAC would like to remind us (and did, several times) that launching a cross-operator service within 12 months is a remarkable achievement, which is true, for the usually glacial network operators that's amazingly fast, but it still might not be fast enough to stop Google, and Apple, running the world. ®
Why even try..
Hasn't it been shown, several times, that interest in web based AJAX applications for mobile devices is minimal at best? People want native applications that can squeeze in every drop of creativity.
Only in deluded minds of networks would they think it would be possible to create a market for this, and even then managed to make a mess out of it with all these versions no one cares about.
Also if premium text numbers are any indication, the commissions charged on those in-application billings will make the 30% Apple and Google charges seem like a fantastic deal...
Now it's anti-Google?
It just occurred to me – last year, when the WAC was officially launched, it was nominally intended as an alternative to Apple and the iPhone App Store. But now the Androids are the enemy... What a difference an year makes, eh?
Why so sluggish?
I am actually quite confident about WAC's viability as a development platform – just look at Google Docs and all they accomplished, without access to the sort of wide-ranging platform optimizations open to mobile vendors – but I'm a bit disappointed in this release. What do you mean no access to local PIM data? Isn't this the kind of support that separates WAC from standard web apps?
Still, it's been quite encouraging to see how WAC's website evolved over the last year, from generic collection of PR utterances into an actually relevant, functional resource, with documentation, SDK downloads and even sample projects. It was also very clever of them to have to have Android support available from day one, even before most WAC-enabled feature phones hit the market. I just hope they have thought about updating first-generation handsets to the upcoming specs – having three incompatible generations spawned in 12 months simply won't do.
So, while there's still plenty of room for disaster, for now WAC keeps steady, if a bit sluggish. Let's wait for the next chapters, then.