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How monogamous

31/8/09

I generally try to avoid covering the same part of the market two weeks running and try to make my columns about big issues rather than knee-jerk reaction to news. There are plenty of other sites which can do a better job of that.

This week I’ll make an exception and return to last week’s column on how Microsoft should give up on Windows Mobile, the impetus for this is the announcement of Microsoft OneApp. Yet another ‘single’ development solution.

Some might say that it’s a revolutionary new way to roll out software to the vast majority of mobile phones. Recognition that Microsoft’s share of less than 2% of the mobile phone market isn’t going to set the world alight. Others might spot it as a client server architecture which takes the problem of developing applications for the myriad mobile phone platforms and creates a level playing field by doing stuff online. Some will say it’s just doing what Infusio, Ideaworks 3D and Rapid Mobile Media have been doing for ages.

In essence it’s an abstraction platform.  It means that developers don’t write software for a phone but the platform. The Microsoft OneApp software makes all phones look the same to all the applications putting the testing onus on Microsoft and making roll-out very much easier.  This is very similar to what Rapid Mobile media does. It works for their applications because they concentrate on content: rolling out data to people rather than having applications that might want to exploit the handset.

The second part of what OneApp does is provide a portal for buying new applications through the OneApp software on the phone. This is what Infusio does, or more accurately, did. A nice, easy way to shop for new applications on the handset.  It was an efficient platform which talked directly to the hardware and the games were good. All it needed was support from networks to force the handset manufacturers to build the Infusio platform in. And it worked, for a while. Orange was  a great champion. Time moved on and Infusio moved to Java and then from the platform to being a rather good games developer. Other developers were loath to write for a platform which was owned by one of their rivals.

Many things are mis-judged about the OneApp announcement. One is that the belief that the majority of phones are feature phones. They aren’t, they are low end, entry phones. I guess it’s progress from the usual, closed mind that thinks the whole world has smartphones typified by the Marcus Brigstocke quote "To the people who've got iPhones: you just bought one, you didn't invent it!"

The manufacturers Microsoft need on board to address the mass market are not Samsung, Nokia and Sony Ericsson, but MediaTek and ZTE. The phones they produce are super-low end. Single processor, ARM7 and ARM9 phones. They don’t have the horsepower to run an abstraction platform.

The ultimate killer will be the experience. Developing for a platform means the software works badly on all the handsets. Some of the general Java software which is on the Blackberry store is appalling. I downloaded one game which had a virtual qwerty keypad for entering your name. You had to select each letter with the track ball. The device has a full hard keyboard that isn’t used. Software should stretch the hardware to delight the user, not be written in a one size fits all.
I can see no reason why OneApp will succeed when Infusio failed, why the networks with their diverse attitudes to apps stores will adopt it, how it will provide the performance available through some of the heaps of other “single” solutions like OneAPI or BONDI, or why a developer might develop for it.

What does make sense is the strategy. Following on from Microsoft Office for Symbian it’s a realisation that Microsoft can’t dominate the OS on phones and should look for other ways into peoples pockets. OneApp might be ignorant of the mechanics of the mobile business, but it points to other opportunities.

Given that Google is making inroads on the mobile OS front an interesting riposte might be Bing.  A while ago I looked at how Nokia could dominate search, something they’ve been disappointingly slow at doing. Indeed they have closed down their associated advertising sales. An alliance between Microsoft, Nokia and the mass market brands – those not taking Android – on using Bing as a mobile search engine might be a way to take the battle to Google.


Cat Keynes publishes her thoughts on the mobile phone industry every Sunday at www.catkeynes.com you can read the column  the previous Friday by subscribing here. Follow me on Twitter here.

 

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