[Disclosure: This post is one of a series of articles sponsored by Verizon. The company has given us editorial freedom to write what we’d like. In return for us covering the company’s developer conference, Verizon will be running ads on our site in ensuing weeks.]
Verizon Wireless, the nation’s largest wireless carrier, will today announce more details of its plan to woo application developers and challenge the dominance of Apple’s iPhone App store.
The details will come at Verizon’s developer conference in San Jose.
Verizon is placing some of its hopes in something called the “Joint Innovation Lab” (JIL) a consortium consisting of Verizon and some of the world’s other largest carriers, namely China Mobile (the world’s largest carrier by subscribers), Vodafone (the world’s largest carrier by revenue) and Softbank. That platform, which will push common standards for developers, will allow those developers to reach a billion customers — enough to easily trounce Apple’s reach with its hot-selling iPhone.
The carriers announced an agreement to establish the Joint Innovation Lab in April, but didn’t disclose many details at the time. China Mobile gave a sneak preview of some elements of JIL at VentureBeat’s MobileBeat 2009 conference two weeks ago.
The Joint Innovation Lab has five elements, we learned at MobileBeat:
The consortium will 1) offer its own software developer kit (SDK) and 2) open up handset and service application programming interfaces (APIs) to developers. Until now, a developer has been forced to design an app to work with the dozens of handsets supported by each carrier. Now, however, Verizon says it will offer tools so developers can write one app that will work on all handsets developed under the JIL standard.
The JIL will also have 3) common application access management standards, including for things such as billing (more on this below) and 4) common application management standards. Both of these are helpful for the carriers: The JIL effort appears to pool technologies from the carriers into a central area, and to allow applications to be tested across the consortium.
Finally, 5) JIL developers will be able to submit their apps to an Verizon’s VCast app store which will work across multiple handsets and operating systems, including RIM, Android, Windows Mobile, Palm, Symbian [clarification: In our first version of this story, we wrongly referred to a JIL app store, in fact it Verizon’s VCast store]. The store will be operated by Qualcomm, Moconews reported yesterday, something that Verizon and Qualcomm will separately confirm with announcements later today. Through its “Plaza” product. Qualcomm enables carriers to manage pricing, licensing, promotions and other attributes of the store. The deal with Verizon is a significant success for Qualcomm Plaza, with more such carrier deals likely to follow. [clarification: in our first version of this piece we wrongly referred to the Moconews story which turns out to be wrong, according to Verizon]. The storefront will be available on the internet, mobile web and through a portal on the handset. [update: in a separate announcement RIM and Verizon announced that the VCast app store will also support the Blackberry SDK from the start, with other SDKs of “devices running on the Verizon network” to follow].
In yesterday’s Verizon second quarter 2009 earnings conference call, Ron Lataille, the company’s senior vice president of investor relations said: “Our goal is to have our App Store up and running by the end of the year.”
Verizon executives are clearly trying to framing JIL favorably as a developer platform, in comparison to the iPhone: Verizon Wireless CEO Lowell McAdam told BusinessWeek two days ago: “I am not here to bash anybody, but if I could write one application that could touch every iPhone customer or one billion customers, who am I going to write for?”
Keep in mind that the alliance isn’t meant to be hostile to Apple per se, because carriers such as Vodafone carry the iPhone in certain countries. But that doesn’t mean there isn’t serious tension in the carrier relationship with Apple. The carriers have long enjoyed an intimate relationship with customers, but the success of the Apple app store has meant that Apple has also forged a direct relationship with customers too — and now there’s a struggle, however muffled in public — by the carriers to maintain their grip on that relationship. If they lose it, the carriers fear they could become “dumb pipes,” and nothing more.
It remains to be seen whether JIL will offer what it takes to make it a true rival of the Apple app store. It’s easy to talk about integration and common standards, but it’s another to deliver. The four carriers and their partner Qualcomm seem to believe they can make things work, but it’s very likely significant fragmentation issues will remain. Each carrier provisions their network slightly differently. They use different frequencies authentication methods and roaming agreements, for example. However, it’s quite possible that shared investments and reduced decreased time-to-market for new services could yield significant efficiencies.
VentureBeat will be covering the conference, along with the financial terms and other incentives offered to developers that will likely be announced during the day. You can sign up for the Verizon developer community here.