'One app for all' effort launches
- 22 September 2010
- From the section Technology
A European project to develop an application environment for every internet-connected device has received 10m euros in funding.
The project aims to sidestep operating systems and proprietary app stores by providing a web-based approach.
The idea would enable a given app to work, for example, on a web-ready television, in a car and on a mobile, no matter the makers of the devices.
However, industry insiders say the idea is unlikely to get off the ground.
The Fraunhofer Institute for Open Communication Systems (Fokus) in Germany is leading the effort, dubbed Webinos.
It is a group of 22 organisations including mobile operators Deutsche Telekom and Telecom Italia, manufacturers such as Sony Ericsson and Samsung, and standards body the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C).
"The problem is the extreme platform fragmentation," said project lead Stephan Steglich.
"We have a lot of different platforms that apps run on - the iPhone, Android, Symbian - and that's only on the mobile side. If you extend that to include the automotive part and consumer electronic area you have more platforms," Dr Steglich told BBC News.
"Companies can afford to have an app on two or at most three platforms - they're extremely costly to develop and ensure the user experience.
"That's what we want to address - to provide a system that runs on all these platforms and domains, where the developer comes up with one application for one platform and lets you run it on all these devices - mobiles, automotive, gaming, and so on."
Rather than develop yet another operating system or work on a service that "translates" software from one platform's code into another's, the project's central idea is to make applications run in a web environment, rather than directly in the depths of a given device's operating system.
"The greatest common denominator among all these devices is the web browser - that's the only thing people can use to accept the same content," Dr Steglich explained.
Other initiatives have tried to replicate elements of Webinos, but have so far gained limited foothold.
In February, for example, mobile operators banded together to form the Wholesale Applications Community (Wac), designed to offer apps across a range of mobile platforms.
A Wac spokesman told BBC News that "the fact that both are in existence, being driven and co-ordinated by similar companies, and both actively collaborating with W3C will contribute to their mutual success".
"It is also a symptom of the growing importance of web applications generally," he added.
Saffron Digital is a London-based firm that deals in content delivery services, for firms ranging from handset manufacturers to network operators - including many of the partners in the Webinos project.
Shashi Fernando, the company's chief executive, says that while Webinos has an impressive roster of participants, it is unlikely to revolutionise the world of apps.
In particular he refers to the "big bear in the room" - Apple - who have yet to subscribe in any meaningful way to similar efforts.
"If Apple don't come to the table, you're eliminating yourself from one of the fastest growing manufacturers in the world," he told BBC News.
"I think the problem is that these groups don't really understand there are companies that... create platforms that work across multiple devices. There is no interest in a standardisation of platforms because those companies need to differentiate their product."
What is more, there is facade of cooperation that may actually work to stifle the kind of innovation that Webinos is aiming for.
"We sit on a few of these initiatives, like the Digital Entertainment Content Ecosystem - an industry-wide initiative around film and TV to standardise format and digital rights management.
"Every major manufacturer is in there, every provider of services, every DRM provider, every studio's behind it. Everybody's trying to play nice and yet nothing is getting off the ground because there are too many vested interests."
He said that while a ubiquitous web-based platform could drive down the cost of apps as well as address device compatibility, such a situation would lead to a "free-for-all".
"At the moment at least there can be a guarantee around quality if (individual app providers) can keep control of it."