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Sprint to kick off mobile Web app initiative

The carrier may offer developers access to user data as it nurtures its Web ecosystem

By , IDG News Service
October 25, 2010 09:21 PM ET

IDG News Service - Sprint Nextel may offer developers information about subscribers' location and browsing behavior -- with an opt-in agreement -- so they can make mobile Web-based applications more relevant and useful to those users.

The move may be part of an initiative at Sprint to help developers more easily build mobile apps that can run on multiple OSes. The carrier will use the Integra back-end software platform from Openwave to create what it calls a Browser-VAS (Value-Added Service) Ecosystem. With it, Sprint aims to create a thriving set of mobile apps that run in a browser instead of as downloaded software residing on a handset. The plan will be announced Tuesday at the Sprint Open Developer Conference in Santa Clara, California, where the system will be demonstrated.

How subscribers will find those apps is still being worked out, said Kevin McGinnis, director of product development at Sprint. Among the possibilities, websites might direct users to an available Web app or a phone-based app might tell them a companion tool based on the Web, he said. In addition, there might be a browser toolbar that users could tap into to see a selection of apps.

"It's just another way to put your service or your enhanced capability in front of a user where they would want it," McGinnis said.

The mobile app world has been dominated by OS creators, especially Apple and Google, and some carriers have rallied around Web-based apps as a way around the fragmentation between those OSes. That strategy may also be designed to level the playing field. In February, 24 major carriers, including Sprint, joined in announcing the Wholesale Applications Community (WAC) to create a common development standard independent of phone type and OS.

Sprint supports the overall objectives of WAC and continues to watch what the group is doing but is not an active member, McGinnis said. The Browser-VAS Ecosystem is one of a variety of approaches to providing mobile applications that includes device-resident apps and app stores, he said.

As a carrier, Sprint could offer more useful information than has been available to Google Android and Apple iOS developers, according to Dan Nguyen, vice president of product management at Openwave. Because it already has a billing system and relationships with subscribers, Sprint could also offer app developers a method of charging for their products, he said. The partnership between the two companies is not exclusive, so other operators could use Integra to do the same thing, Nguyen said.

The plan's success will depend in part on consistency among mobile browsers, which would simplify development for multiple platforms. To reach this consistency, Openwave has targeted Webkit, the foundation for mobile browsers including those of the iPhone, Android devices and the BlackBerry 6 OS.

The Browser-VAS Ecosystem will first work with the Android browser and then the BlackBerry, later adding other platforms, said Anand Chandrasekaran, director of product management at Openwave. Sprint and Openwave are already working on the initiative with selected developers and plan to open it up generally in the first half of next year, according to Openwave. The first available application created with the Browser-VAS Ecosystem will be one that lets subscribers click on a Sprint icon in the browser toolbar. That icon will bring them to a page with options such as checking usage and managing an account.

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