News just came out today from the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona that 24 mobile carriers from around the world are going to unite together to produce an international application store called the “Wholesale Applications Community.” It’s an obvious reaction to Apple’s iTunes application store which has a stringent review policy before any application will appear in its online store. For example, Apple has strict rules about pornography and profanity in its applications, but we’ve seen them relax those rules in certain cases.

Can this idea really work? Can 24 carriers along with three device manufacturers operate more smoothly than just a single device manufacturer?

My answer: Good luck.

I’m sure when the announcement was made there were cheers all around. Execs were slapping each other high five and saying to each other, “Watch out Steve Jobs.” And then as soon as everything calmed down, they all said to themselves, “Oh shit.”

Wholesale Applications Community needs to consult with a cat herder

Yes, oh shit is right. Just the technical complications alone with different devices, different networks, and different governing rules are complication enough. But if you think it’s hard to get agreement on anything within your organization of 100 people, think about 20+ worldwide organizations. I wouldn’t want to even try to get agreement on whether they’d like Coke or Diet Coke served. Years ago I worked for Sprint and I was amazed at how long every single task took. I realized I could do so many tasks quicker if I just did it myself. I hosted and produced two podcast series for Sprint (a B2C and B2B version), and was seen as just the guy who could do it all when it came to podcasting.

Do dictatorships work better than democracies in mobile?

At a much grander scale, Steve Jobs is the guy who can do it all when it comes to creating a computing and content market. He did it with Apple computers, the iPod, the iPhone, and more importantly the resulting iTunes store for movies, music, and applications. In a conversation with friend and Apple industry expert Andy Ihnatko, he said of Steve Jobs, “If Jobs says every computer gets a cup holder, then every computer gets a cup holder. He dictates the market for his computers.” This didn’t happen in the PC market, it didn’t happen in the mobile phone market, and good luck trying to get it to work.

Mobile carriers are very protective of their respective networks. They don’t operate like the free and easy Internet. Geez, just to do an SMS campaign over their networks you have to fill out a form to explain what you want to do and how long the campaign will run. That’s just text. Now the carriers are going to agree on a whole how to manage applications. Sounds great in theory, horrible in practice.

But then again another idea that sounded great in theory, horrible in practice, turned out to be great in practice. I’m talking about Wikipedia.

Can the Chinese fire drill behavior of the multiple carriers eventually come together and form something useful like Wikipedia? Check back with me in a year.

Creative Commons attribution: Star5112 / CC BY-SA 2.0