Coming Soon: More Cross-Platform App Stores?

Recent changes in back-end software may work to provide users more personalized apps, study says.

Even as Microsoft shuts down its Windows Mobile app store, chances are consumers are going to see more cross-platform app store options in the future, according to Shira Levine, directing analyst at Campbell, Calif.-based research firm Infonetics.

Infonetics Research released a report Monday on the relatively esoteric space of service delivery platform (SDP) software, which helps carriers create and deliver services to subscribers and then bill them accordingly. Oracle, Hewlett-Packard, and Chinese phone maker Huawei are all in this market, which grew 16% between 2010 and 2011, to $3.2 billion, and which Levine believes will grow to $5.8 billion by 2016.

Why should a consumer care about SDP software? Its use means that carriers such as AT&T and Verizon may very well get into the app store space to compete with Apple and third-party app stores like Getjar. The carriers' differentiation: The ability to offer Android and browser-based applications in a one-stop-shopping environment. "AT&T learned a valuable lesson with the iPhone," says Levine. "They're not part of the revenue value chain [for iPhone apps]."

As a result, she says, "[carriers] are envisioning OS-independent app stores, which consumers could access no matter what device you had and even do so across multiple devices."

How Would Carrier App Stores Differ?

How these carrier stores would differentiate themselves is really "the million-dollar question," says Levine. "How can they create something that will complete with Apple? They know how to create walled garden applications, but they have to figure out how to work in [an] open ecosystem."

Levine anticipates that that differentiation will essentially come from applications that make use of specific user information. "One advantage that carriers have over device vendors is that they have access to subscriber data beyond the device itself," says Levine. To create competitive app stores, the carriers will have to leverage information that they have on the network side.

That means exposing either co-existing location or preference information or existing back-end information based on other relationships that customers already have with carriers (i.e., through other network access methods, such as broadband or DSL).

Here's How It Might Work

Theoretically, users could download an app and allow the carrier to expose their presence information to a third-party developer, whose app would then aggregate that information appropriately. As an example, picture an online-dating application that would require the carrier to share location information.

Putting together enough cool apps on an exclusive basis--and offering them for free to consumers--would make a robust content ecosystem that could be appealing to the consumer, says Levine. Another boon for consumers--assuming they put aside privacy issues--is the opportunity for more personalized applications.

That in turns sparks another million-dollar question: Will consumers let that info be exposed to third parties and what will make it worthwhile for them to do so? Levine believes the answer varies from region to region and from generation to generation.

"Asia is much less privacy conscious than the U.S.," she says, "and the Millenials [Generation Y] are much more open to sharing information than Boomers."

That means that cross-platform carrier-sponsored app stores could very well turn out to be highly personalized places to shop--for those willing to impart their information.

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