Symbian last week unveiled an effort to help developers navigate the increasingly confusing app-store ecosystem and distribute their wares through as many distribution channels as possible. Verizon Wireless, meanwhile, seems intent on making the space more complicated than ever.
Symbian Horizon, an application-publishing program designed to spur the development of mobile apps and increase revenues for developers, is slated for an October launch. The platform-backed program is built on two communities: app-store providers including Nokia’s Ovi, AT&T’s MEdia Mall and the Samsung Application Store; and a developer community that includes content owners such as The Guardian and National Public Radio.
I think it’s a wise strategy in a time when countless of mobile players are opening their own app stores, and it’s likely to give Symbian a much-needed boost. While Symbian still boasts an impressive developer community and remains the dominant smartphone OS worldwide, its market share has consistently decreased as the iPhone OS, BlackBerry and Android gain traction.
Compare that tack with Verizon’s decision not to install RIM’s BlackBerry App World or Microsoft’s Windows Mobile Marketplace on its phones. Instead, the nation’s largest carrier wants to serve as an application aggregator, subscriber information (such as location) and carrier-billing privileges only with developers who distribute their wares through Verizon’s app store, which will launch later this year.
So a BlackBerry user on Verizon, for instance, will either have to rummage through Verizon’s multi-platform store for applications or will have to download App World himself. Meanwhile, developers are forced to gain certification to yet another distribution channel for maximum exposure and to leverage the subscriber information and carrier billing that can be crucial to the success of some apps.
What’s most galling about this is that Verizon (like most carriers) has a miserable track record when it comes to merchandising and selling mobile content. Get It Now!, the operator’s content deck for feature phones, for years has provided a painful shopping experience, and its failed full-track music download service was virtually impossible to navigate. (I know; I’ve been a Verizon customer for a decade.)
I can almost understand Verizon’s compulsion to have a cut of app download revenues, but the carrier must come to grips with the fact that operators no longer hold all the cards. Savvy users — you know, the ones most likely to download apps — will probably eschew Verizon’s store and go straight to the source for their applications, and developers may find there’s little benefit in investing resources to gain certification. Verizon can crow all it wants about “openness,” but strong-arming developers and keeping platform stores at arm’s length demonstrates that Verizon’s mindset is as closed as ever.