AOL’s Agnostic Option for Wireless Apps

Speaking at the inaugural Mobile Internet World conference four months ago, Tim Berners-Lee lamented the proprietary standards and formats that are choking off the growth of the mobile Web.

To the father of the original Web, AOL has come up with an answer.

At the GSMA Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, AOL announced Monday that it has built a platform to provide developers with the tools and source code they need to create applications that will run on virtually any mobile device.

The Open Mobile Platform is built on technology developed by Air Media, a company acquired by AOL last year.

[cob:Related_Articles]Shortly after the integration, AOL began working on the mobile developer platform, which will offer a portability of applications that no other mobile platform can provide, said Jai Jaisimha, the vice president of engineering of AOL’s Mobile group.

“In contrast to the other open initiatives,” he said, “ours is not tied down to specific devices or specific service providers.”

“The application is designed to be device agnostic,” Jaisimha told, noting that the success of Google’s Android initiative is largely dependent on the cooperation of various companies—handset makers and wireless carriers—comprising the mobile value chain.

“What this means in aggregate is that mobile operators’ unwillingness to embrace mobile advertising is undercutting the business model of content providers,” said IDC
analyst Scott Ellison. “Mobile advertising is going to happen whether mobile providers like it or not.”

The platform, slated for launch in the summer, will offer an XML-based markup language with source code available for developers to view and modify. Additionally, the platform will include a lightweight mobile-device client and an application server for scalable distribution.

The open-source technology will power applications on a host of mobile platforms and operating systems, including BREW, Linux, Symbian Java and Windows Mobile.

Developers will have the option of linking AOL’s branded applications with their own, through existing open APIs for AIM, AOL Mail, MapQuest and others.

For example, a developer could create an application for mobile devices that syncs up location data from MapQuest with a company’s distribution schedule.

Creating an engaging developer environment is one way that major portals like AOL are looking to expand their footprint in the mobile arena.

In the past couple of years, Internet heavyweights have also been aggressively positioning themselves in the mobile space with new applications, carrier partnerships and acquisitions.

One of those acquisitions will enable developers to monetize their content through the AOL platform. Through technology gained in the purchase of Third Screen Media last May, AOL’s Platform A will place clickable banner ads on the applications of participating developers.

There are no official partners to announce today, Jaisimha said, though he noted that the response from many wireless telephony providers has been positive, and that details of licensing agreements would be forthcoming.

AOL is betting that the universal portability of its platform applications will differentiate it from its rivals’ mobile initiatives.

By giving access to source code and promising that applications developed through its platform will work on any device on any network, AOL is offering an answer to the oft-muttered complaints about carriers restricting the applications that can run on their networks.

Bob Walczak, CEO of the mobile ad-placement company Ringleader Digital, told that the “walled garden” was the single greatest drag on the acceleration of the mobile advertising market.

AOL’s move is in line with the views of several IDC analysts who recently outlined their predictions for the mobile market in the coming year.

The analysts emphasized how prominent wireless carriers have stubbornly refused to allow new applications or advertising to appear on their networks, forcing companies like AOL to develop technologies that bring their content (and the attendant advertising) directly to consumers—effectively pushing the carriers out of the value equation.

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