Everyone who's anyone in the wireless space wants in on the app store game. Handset-makers, carriers, third-party software vendors and others all want a hand in the action, a chance to bring in some of those iTunes App Store dollars.
But U.S. carrier Verizon Wireless, which has traditionally taken a closed-door approach to developer relations, is trying out a new strategy -- courting mobile app developers for its own cross-platform app store it plans to open before the start of next year, according to reports. But that's not all: Verizon will reportedly ship new devices with just its own app store, leaving customers to download software shops like Research In Motion's (RIM) BlackBerry App World and Microsoft's Windows Marketplace for Mobile on their own.
The carrier also plans to hold a developer specific event later this month in San Jose, the Verizon Developer Community 2009 conference, at which additional information on the upcoming app store will be shared.
Verizon won't block installation of on-device clients like App World for BlackBerrys, Marketplace for Mobile on Windows devices or the Android Marketplace on smartphones running Google's mobile OS. In other words, customers will still be able to download and use whatever compatible app stores they please; they'll just have to locate and install those clients themselves.
Developers would still create apps specifically for mobile platforms, like BlackBerry or Android, but they'd all be offered via similar versions of Verizon's app store tailored for those different devices and operating systems.
Any apps sold through Verizon will reportedly undergo a short vetting process to ensure compatibility. And they'll all feature certain APIs and tools that will enable customers to purchase the apps and bill them to their monthly wireless statements, according to reports.
Developers will also have a say in pricing their apps, a drastic change from the way Verizon sells third-party applications for feature phones or "non-smartphones."
Though I don't necessary like the idea of Verizon pushing its own app store and purchasing process down customers' throats, it's really no different than what AT&T and other carriers have been doing for years via "crapware."
It's also a bit underhanded of Verizon not to ship devices with app stores from handset makers (in addition to its own on-device offering), but it's not surprising. Verizon is in the wireless business to make a profit, and a large percentage of mobile dollars are now associated with software and not just hardware.
Unfortunately, Verizon has remained mum on the subject of application pricing and developer payment details, saying just that they'll be "competitive, not only with the price, but with the process and the simplicity which developers have come to expect in open ecosystems," in an interview with GigaOm.com.
This little detail seems very significant to me, as it could mean the difference between developers distributing apps through a handset-maker's "official" app store, or Verizon's. If Verizon offers a larger cut of profits on BlackBerry apps than App World, developers will likely gravitate to Verizon's store, though I really don't see why developers couldn't offer their products via both, or all, available channels.
I must say, however, if Verizon's new app store is anything like the current BlackBerry Application Center, available on the BlackBerry Storm 9530 and Tour 9630, I'll pass. The app center has been available for months, since the Storm's launch in November, and its selection is still incredibly weak, featuring mostly Verizon-specific apps and common IM programs.
Still, assuming Verizon doesn't pull any (more) shady dealings--I'm keeping an eye on you, Big Red--the freedom to choose from another app store can only be a good thing. I'm keeping my fingers crossed that Verizon keeps its customers in mind here and not just the potential benefits to its bottom line.