Virtually every mobile operator worth its spectrum has made it super-easy to buy applications for your mobile phone these days: Point > Click > Provide payment method > Done. Now, however, a new generation of indie providers, and in some cases the giants who provide the mobile handsets and operating systems, are making it a lot easier to create mobile apps, too.
The primary source from which mobile apps spring is a service delivery platform, or SDP, which enables communications service providers (SPs, e.g., Verizon, Comcast, BT, Telstra) to rapidly develop and deploy everything from traditional voice to multimedia apps such as streaming video, IPTV, messaging and gaming…to services that don’t even exist yet. As I described in a TechTarget webcast (available here and here), an SP signs up content providers; the content providers deliver apps and services, and users consume them, by interacting with an SDP’s standard interfaces and user-friendly, self-service portals. The carrier stays blissfully above the operational fray and takes a cut of every transaction.
SDPs also help SPs in other ways. AT&T deployed an SDP to support Project Lightspeed, known today as U-verse. India’s leading SP Bharti Airtel has signed a quarter of a billion dollars’ worth of contracts with IBM since 2006 to build and expand an SDP supporting its One Airtel three-screens initiative: Delivering apps over mobile, PC and TV. A growing share of the apps delivered by larger SPs are sold by way of mobile virtual network operators (MVNOs)—hundreds of companies around the globe that do not own their own wireless networks but sell their own branded services over SP networks—such as Boost Mobile (owned by Sprint), Bratz Mobile (target market what else: kids) and Virgin Mobile. KPN, leading SP in The Netherlands, serves the world’s largest ecosystem of MVNOs with an SDP from vendor Artilium.
So where do the mobile apps so many AT&T and Verizon users consume every day come from? Qualcomm’s BREW (Binary Runtime Environment for Wireless) platform and its PLAZA mobile widgets combine to comprise an SDP for wireless apps; Qualcomm counted Verizon as its first mobile apps customer and has gone on to do the same for AT&T and operators in other world regions. Other prominent providers of SDPs and mobile apps include big players like Yahoo! and smaller ones like Bling Software and Plusmo. (It appears that AT&T now wants to roll its own mobile apps, acquiring Plusmo in September 2009.)
It seems only yesterday that SDPs started catching on among the world’s major SPs, but a cottage industry has already sprung up to bypass the big SDP arms merchants and bring mobile app-making to the masses. Companies like Appiction, MobileFrame, MotherApp, ScrollMotion, with its Iceberg SDP, and Ustream are building their own mobile apps, will work with you to bring your dream app to market, can provide you with an SDP to roll your own apps or all of the above.
The big players are not about to be left behind, however. Leading retailer The Gap, working with mobile apps platform provider Mobclix, ran a contest in mid-2009 for iPhone software developers to create apps embodying the clothing and apparel brand’s preppy style. The Windows Marketplace For Mobile’s Race to Market, deadline 31 December 2009, challenged developers to create apps for the Marketplace’s online store. As tweeted here, Verizon’s 2009 “Apply Your Ideas” contest was designed to generate new apps for the Blackberry platform. From big players to big promises, there’s even an outfit advertising MyPhoneRiches that “guarantees more than $27k per day on autopilot” with an iPhone app business.
I have yet to bring my own app to market but I have to confess the more I learn the more ready I am to explore the wild, wonderful world of mobile app development myself. Thus far in my career I’ve had the privilege of working with some world-class application and web developers; maybe I’ll team up with some of them to come up with the next killer mobile apps.