The apps market is a lucrative business, so lucrative that operators, handset OEMs, aggregators and other businesses (like Opera and Amazon) have created their own app stores in a bid to get a slice of the cake. For 2011, the whole apps market has been estimated to bring in around $15 billion globally and this is expected to rise to $38 billion by 2015.
WAC launched at the Mobile World Congress 2010 in Barcelona, promised to make it easier for developers to sell and build apps irrespective of device or technology. One year on, WAC is open for business with the launch of its application store and the release of version 2.0 of its specifications.
On its website, WAC aims to:
- Accelerate and expand the market for applications by enabling developers to develop once and deploy to multiple platforms and devices
- Create more compelling applications by enabling developers to use both device and network capabilities
- Provide greater choice for users by simplifying the porting of apps
Comparing WAC to the competition
|market share (2010) ***||15.7%||22.7 %||4.2 %||16.0 %||37.6 %|
|Installed base||3 billion**||60 million*||20 million*||75 million*||110 million*||390 million*|
|No. of apps||12,000**||225,000*||72,000*||13,500*||7,800*||6,900*|
|Plus points||-Quick coding & prototyping||-App UI-IDE-Hardware API support||-App UI-Low cost-IDE
-Quick coding & prototyping
-Hardware API support
|Technology||HTML, widgets||Objective-C, native apps||Java, C/C++, native apps||.NET, C#, native apps||Java ME, native apps||Java,
C++, native apps
* figures from Mobile Developer Economics 2010 and Beyond by VisionMobile
** from the WAC press release
*** from Gartner report
Demand and supply
The word “apps” has been heavily tied to Apple from the day it entered the mobile industry and changed the whole dynamics of the ecosystem. Without any doubt, Apple’s iPhone has set the benchmark for mobile apps. Apple’s app user interface has been so successful that users demand more of their apps in terms of functionality, performance, graphics and level of interactivity when choosing the competition.
The device has provided users with an unprecedented level of interactivity to the point that it has become the defacto standard when choosing a platform for apps. The user interface on these devices provides complex functionality while at the same time allowing excellent performance tied up with rich graphics and a high level of interactivity. WAC, which uses widgets as the technology for getting apps to market, is still in its infancy when it comes to handling such complexity and performance.
If we are to compare WAC apps to Apple and Android apps, then at the moment it is really poor and cannot tackle the super apps distributed by Apple and Android. Widgets simply cannot live up to the expectations of demanding iPhone and Android users. The closest widgets can get to these super apps is simple 2D games and weather forecast apps.
The super app train
One of the success factors for Apple’s ecosystem has been the continuous evolution of its OS each providing access to a new set of features for apps. Every time a new OS version is launched, there is a gap in the market for new innovative apps using these features which provide users with new ways of interacting with their mobiles and the environment around them. Both developers and users are constantly being engaged with this continuous evolution of features.
Even if WAC was to catch up to the market leaders, it still faces playing a chasing game because Android and Apple are constantly evolving their OS and set of features while WAC is only trying to match them. The popular apps seen today in the leading app stores will eventually be displaced by new feature-rich apps when new OS versions and new phones are launched. This continuous evolution of features guarantees that apps keep getting more interactive, processor-intensive and graphics-intensive which inevitably creates a cycle of today’s super apps will be tomorrow’s average apps. Apps will keep getting better and better and WAC would need to catch up fast so as not to miss the super app train.
One major factor for the success of apps on the iPhone and Android has been the interactivity provided by hardware APIs. So far, WAC only provides access to network and device APIs. To create compelling apps, it would need to harness the power of the gyroscope and accelerometer in most devices. Operator and device APIs are just not enough for their compelling apps dream. Handset OEMs would need to join in as well and contribute to WAC with their hardware APIs. So far WAC has managed to convince very few handset OEMs.
Another shortoming of the WAC’s API offerings is in its APIs business model. They have to realise that they have mountains to move when it comes to encouraging developers to develop for them. The 3 billion device reach promise is not enough! They would have to offer their APIs free of charge or even have a revenue share model for developers who use their APIs, like BlueVia for example. This would be a big encouragement for developers as they would get an extra revenue channel for use of its APIs, a definite plus point.
Devices, markets and developers
As devices get more powerful, start cramming more pixels, and keep improving their interactivity, it becomes practically impossible for WAC to keep up with this constant and fast paced evolution. It needs to target a particular segment of mobiles. Keeping up with the low-end to the high-end through the mid-end phones will create even more fragmentation. At the high-end level, is it worth competing with the native apps of the Android Market and at the low-end level, can the devices support HTML or do they only support WML? All these factors will have to be considered when targeting a particular device segment. The mid-end phones are most likely best suited to WAC.
In a similar fashion to devices, WAC needs to carefully choose its markets. Major markets such as UK and USA are tech-savvy and demanding in terms of apps quality. The market has already been sold on the virtues of Apple’s iPhone and are very likely able to afford an iPhone or Android phone through operator subsidy. Developing or emerging countries for e.g. in Africa could be a good market for WAC. The masses cannot afford an iPhone or Android phone there and WAC could easily sell them the offerings of an app store. This heavily ties up with the popular devices in these countries which are more likely low-end to mid-end range phones, for example Nokia is very popular in African countries.
Developers, just like devices and markets, also need to be targeted. WAC at the moment does not offer an attractive enough proposition to tempt the highly successful iPhone developers who are running a profitable business. Less successful iPhone and Android developers would be more interested in WAC as well as entrepeneurs who find iPhone development expensive might be also interested in WAC. Therefore, WAC would really need to define what it is aiming for, the high-end developers or lower-end ones.
Native apps v/s widgets
Most apps can’t be developed with widgets and more app versions are required to cover the same number of devices with widgets. You can’t win with both sides of an unbiased coin. WAC has to choose between native apps or widgets. It can choose to drop widgets altogether but that would be at the expense of its members, some of whom have already created app stores geared towards native apps. Widgets will continue to be the main technology used by WAC to deliver apps as going native on apps will have a conflict of interest with its members.
The road ahead
WAC without any doubts has a massive market to tap into but it lacks a clear strategy aimed towards a specific market, devices and developers. To be successful it needs to address the lower spectrum of the mobile ecosystem because it just cannot compete with Apple or Android who are riding on the higher end of the spectrum. WAC can ride the app store wave by replicating what the major app stores are doing but to a lower device market and audience.