Two dozen of the world's largest wireless operators have formed an alliance to challenge Apple's domination of the mobile applications market by creating an open platform allowing developers to reach 3 billion customers worldwide.
Called the Wholesale Applications Community, the ambitious initiative includes carriers such as AT&T, Verizon Wireless, Vodafone and NTT DoCoMo as well as three of the biggest manufacturers -- LG Electronics, Samsung and Sony Ericsson.
The announcement was made at the World Mobile Congress in Barcelona, where Apple is conspicuously absent.
The group's stated aim is to unite the fragmented apps market through a wholesale apps platform that provides a single point of entry for developers. In effect, the effort would create one giant developer community out of the many smaller ones creating apps for different mobile operating systems, handsets and carriers.
To pull off that hugely difficult task, the alliance would rely on a set of common open standards that let developers to create apps across different platforms. It would start with the JIL and Bondi standards that some carriers have already begun adopting, and eventually merge those into a single common standard in the next year.
For all the alliance's rhetoric about changes benefiting the entire mobile ecosystem, it's clear the goal is to pose a more credible threat to Apple's App Store. The iTunes-powered storefront offers some 150,000 apps and users have downloaded more than 3 billion (mostly free) programs to date. The company's app business is also likely to get an additional boost with the release of the iPad at the end of March.
Major U.S. carriers such as AT&T and Verizon as well as tech giants like Google and Microsoft have scrambled to catch up by launching their own app stores, but still remain well behind Apple. By teaming up, the operators hope to close the gap with Apple by luring developers with chance to reach their 3 billion customers collectively through a common set of tools.
But that vision could turn out to be a mirage. In addition to the enormous challenge of integrating mulitple global carriers and manufacturers around common app standards, operators to date have little track record of success in developing mobile content and Web services. The biggest difference now is that Apple has demonstrated there's a market to go after.