I thought that the biggest announcement of the2009 CTIA show was Verizon’s announcement to join the Joint Innovation Lab (JIL). JIL will provide developers with a platform and access to more than a billion customers around the world in more than 70 countries. This is a fundamental shift in how mobile applications are going to be created and distributed. It solves a significant fragmentation problem, given the number of mobile operating systems, device manufacturers, and networks. JIL provides a mechanism for standardizing applications at the widget level, as well as, a cross-network-and-device application store and payment system to service those one billion customers.
As the US’ largest wireless network services provider, Verizon joins Vodafone, China Mobile, and SoftBank, representing Europe, China, and Japan respectively. “This partnership will enable four of the world’s leading mobile operators to pool their combined expertise, innovation and scale for the gain of customers across the globe,” said JIL Chairman Masayoshi Son. “As well as driving innovation in the mobile developer world, this initiative is set to empower consumers by giving them access to a range of easy-to-use and compelling Web applications that will enable them to get even more benefits from their handsets.”
Mobile computing has the potential to quickly outpace traditional computing platforms. This will only happen if mobile computing can deal with the challenges that come along with fragmentation. There are at least nine pretty strong smart phone manufacturers. They include Nokia, Motorola, Samsung, Sony Ericsson, LG, RIM, Apple, HTC, and Palm. We then add another tier for the leading Mobile Operating Systems (OS). They are Symbian, Apple, LiMO, RIM, Microsoft, Palm, and Android. Add to that 8 or 9 mobile browsers, different customer languages, and service provider networks, and the fragmentation challenge for developers starts to become obvious.
JIL widgets offer developers a application layer that can sit across these different device/OS/browser/network combinations in order to isolate the applications function and user interface from the specific handset. This widget layer should benefit developers, service providers, and end-users alike. Developers should benefit from a consistent platform standard and extremely large market. End users will benefit from applications that look and feel the way that you would expect them to even on different devices and networks.
The JIL website is pretty thin on details as of this writing, but there is talk of launching in the second half of 2009. Your guess would be as good as mine, but I would expect them to start with SDKs to support Symbian, Windows Mobile, and Android out of the box. Symbian will give them the lion’s share of the existing OS market. Windows and Android bring with them already existing developer communities that have been working with widgets (and gears) for some time now.