Vodafone, Verizon, China Mobile, Softbank create a mobile app market for 1 billion people

1 Oct 2009

Irish software creators have a chance to go global and compete for up to €1m in cash prizes.

There is a major revolution taking place in the worlds of software and mobile. Spearheaded by the internet, very soon music and video charts will be joined by popular charts consisting of useful and amusing pieces of software known as apps or widgets that will entertain, inform and help you get things done.

On the one hand, cloud computing enables businesses and workers to access their tools via the internet. But on the other, savvy consumers and executives who have grown used to blogs and Facebook are beginning to demand software applications on the move, whether it is a mobile version of Wikipedia, the entire Irish phone directory, a personal fitness trainer or a mobile-sized version of their favourite newspaper or magazine.

This burgeoning apps market has to date been dominated by Apple, whose iTunes Apps Store has more than 85,000 different applications and this week reported the two-billionth download of an app. The latest entrants to the fray include Google, with its Android Market, Nokia, with its Ovi Store, and Microsoft, which is about to launch its Sky Store.

Until now, the mobile apps business has been dominated by both software and mobile hand-set makers, but the game is about to take on a new dimension now that three mobile operators with a global user base of 1 billion people – Vodafone, Verizon and China Mobile – are entering the fray.

Along with these operators, Vodafone last week introduced the Vodafone 360 Experience – a brand new set of web applications for both the mobile phone and PC – that aims to bring the social web and user’s media all into one place. The opportunity exists for Irish software developers, from the amateur second- or third-level student right up to the veteran software firm, to develop applications for the Vodafone 360 Store and reach 1 billion people.

Finding the world’s first Apps Star

  • Vodafone has joined forces with US mobile operator Verizon and China Telecom to create a global software apps marketplace
  • Combined, the 360 marketplace can be reached by up to 1 billion people
  • Pan-European competition with prize fund of €1m launched to discover “most popular” app

360 software apps will work on Vodafone 360 Samsung devices, Nokia Series 60 devices and eventually all mobile phones equipped with Java software

The apps will work on both the 360 H1 and M1 handsets that will be launched in time for Christmas. Nokia Series 60 devices and will eventually be open to working on all mobile phones that have Java software – growing the potential software market well beyond the 1 billion reached by Vodafone, Verizon and China Mobile.

So far, Ireland’s exposure to the mobile apps revolution has been confined to efforts of individuals like DCU digital media student Stephen Troughton-Smith, who makes an income from creating iPhone apps, to Patrick Collison, whose Wikipedia app has been downloaded 300,000 times and has been named by the New York Times as one of the seven must-have offline apps for the iPhone and iPod Touch.

But now apps developers all over the world have a chance to compete for the Vodafone Apps Star competition which has cash prizes totalling €1m. The competition will be open to all app developers, ranging from novices and students up to entrepreneurs and companies. All would-be developers need to do is download the software development kit (SDK), build an app and enter the competition.

Vodafone is encouraging potential Irish developers to take part in the competition at the Vodaphone Apps Star Challenge page and win both local prizes of €100,000.

Split into two phases (the first phase now and second phase during 2010), the Vodafone Apps Star competition has a combined prize fund of €1,000,000 which will be shared across eight of Vodafone’s largest European operating companies to encourage innovation in the mobile application and widget space. The participating eight countries are: UK, Ireland, Germany, Netherlands, Italy, Spain, Portugal and Greece.

Local developers responsible for the Top 3 mobile widgets will be awarded prize money of €25,000, €15,000 and €10,000 for coming first, second and third respectively. The €25k winner will also have their entry submitted into a pan-European competition to decide the best of the best.

The European competition winners’ widgets will then be put to the public vote within the participating eight countries and the winning developer will pocket a further prize of €75,000, bringing their total prize money to €100,000.

Charles Butterworth, chief executive of Vodafone in Ireland, says the move to create a mobile applications marketplace is a logical step for mobile operators.

“Several years ago we were an industry that gave people voice and text-messaging services. When we first offered internet access it was about simple services like downloading email and ringtones. But now we are witnessing the phenomena of social networking like Facebook and Twitter and the way people are interacting in the digital age is truly evolving.

“What we have done with Vodafone 360 is pulled together all of these social networking worlds with the idea of putting the individual back in the centre of these activities and on one device.”

The key facet of the Vodafone 360 Experience is the applications store, which will provide an important revenue stream for Vodafone, Verizon and China Mobile but more so from the point of view of software developers who will be able to pocket 70pc of revenues on apps sold.

“If you are a developer and you develop a widget for the mobile phone, whether it’s a game or a utility tool, effectively you have an opportunity to reach potentially 1 billion customers worldwide. The unique opportunity is an experience that puts the user at the heart of the mobile experience and gives entrepreneurs access to 1 billion people.”

The head of Vodafone internet services in Ireland, Chris Handley, says it’s his ambition to see an Irish software creator, whether they are a student novice or an experienced developer, claim the top cash prize.

“We want to enable users to create applications as well as consume them. Because the service is cross-device – it will work on all phones with Java software – it will become the biggest market for applications in the world.”

Handley says the strategic rationale is that today Vodafone can start with selling applications, there is the potential to sell a multitude of services in time. “The key here is that we have the billing relationship with customers. They can choose the software they want and it gets deducted from their pre-pay credit or their bill, they don’t have to hand over credit card details. The majority of mobile users in the world don’t carry credit cards.

“The users themselves will decide ultimately what’s the best application. We’re providing the marketplace, the standards and the tools that allow people to get creative and get out there and sell to the world.”

Vodafone and siliconrepublic.com have joined forces to encourage Irish software creators, from students to entrepreneurs, to compete for their share of prizes totalling €1m. To learn more, view the Vodaphone Apps Star Challenge page for more information.

By John Kennedy

Photo: Vodafone and two of the world’s other leading mobile operators are unleashing a new apps marketplace. Pictured are, from left, Chris Handley, the head of Vodafone internet services in Ireland, and Charles Butterworth, chief executive of Vodafone in Ireland.

John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years