WAC 2.0 (or never ending discussions on network enhancing apps)

WAC is yet another proposal to organize mobile applications development and diffusion.

In such fragmented scenario, WAC eco system is proposing as an open industry platform:  mobile vendors and operators are all welcome to join. For those who read JIL specification, they must know WAC has absorbed JIL initiative work and participants.

I have just said “open”; please read Open as supposed to be based on web developers community creativity. Briefly, they are open to listen someone giving them good advices for making money. In these sense, I am WAC myself too.

The first interesting thing to notice is that GSMA is actively involved in WAC, while still working on their OneAPI initiative.

This is a clear indicator of the fact that works are unfortunately still at their early stages, and that there is room for further acquisitions or grouping of other separate works.

That said, they must be anyway given for a valuable project: delivering a common set of specifications and tools to developers in order to create cross operator and cross terminal application.

Let’s now proceed with the plus and the minus of WAC in a questions and answers way.

WAC is not willing to be just a framework: they want (and they need to be) an ecosystem.

A fundamental part of the eco system equation is the application web store: WAC is willing to create a cross operators app stores for WAC enabled devices[1].

In order to attract developers, WAC operators offer (or better they keep promising to offer) those mysterious network APIs, which should enable developers to easily benefit form direct customer billing and immediate revenue. As all other eco system they also offer tools and clear specification and a very easy way to develop (we will get later into this and we will reflect if developers really want/need such and easy life).

What is still missing from the equation is interoperability among devices, as to provide this you need a stable device platforms scenario (which is not definitely current situation) and the kind availability of platform vendors to share the knowledge (and so far only the Android has given this).

How should an eco system look like to be attractive? It should be different, jumping out from the crowded fragmentation with a real uniqueness to offer.

I see to ways of diversifying: one is the business model. But competing on revenue share is a rat race and so it’s a poison pill you should use only in case you want to destroy a market you have been kicked out.

The second is… inventing something.

That is why I went to MWC to Fabio Ricciato’s conference. Fabio is an expert of device innovation and strategies at Telecom Italia, and spokesman of the fabulous … eight …or..twenty..(I did not get it yet) operators willing to find a way out to “dumb pipeness”.

It’s been a long time since I heard operators talking about the need to “expose” their services platform to the rest of the world (WAC, OneAPI, Restful, custom, Parlay X are just a few of the “n” facades on that).

As operators in WAC have been (and still are) a little bit… “slow” in creating this common framework “exposure”, an hero named Oracle came to help them in order to push a little bit.

Oracle in fact has been able to quickly propose as a service gatekeeper of service facades mentioned above. They also added specs on authentication and access control. They also released an IDE, with Javascript supported. Another hero came with an IDE for WAC: Opera.

You can use even Eclipse SDK if you prefer. Just do not forget declarations on config.xml file and you will be allowed to use libraries and their methods.

As a result, at MWC we have been announced of WAC 2.0 specs release.

Changes are important: web standard compliancy, new APIs and new tools for developers.

The promise is the usual “write once, works everywhere”.

A common WAC developer profile is a web developer; the promise for them is 2 weeks to develop a working app for mobiles.

Operators must guarantee that these apps will work on the majority (possibly any) of their devices portfolio.

What should you know to become a WAC 2.0 developer? Essentially HTML5 and W3C widget package standard. On top of that there are a security framework (defined together with W3C) and a parental control layer.

Starting from WRT, a web engine, some javascript extensions, some security policies you can create a WAC application providing you can control the device functionalities. It’s not so difficult, they say. I would better ask to those who are really confident with HTML5, CSS3 and DOM if it is so. Writing your HTML file, adding some javascript logic is not enough: do not forget to declair everything you use in a config.xml (remember security, will talk later).

If you are willing to do something more interesting and reuse web components you could use powerful jQuery libraries. If you want to open external applications just declare their mime type and use html (href) code. Now Zip everything and rename it .w3c and you have just made your first web app widget completely w3c compliant.

That’s a critical point. How could vendors support WAC when WAC purpose is to contrast the power of other ecosystems with a slow but pragmatic, coordinated and standard approach?

How could MNOs consider this profitable if they cannot autonomously guarantee full compliancy of WAC apps on their handset portfolio?

Vendors may release their APIs enabling WAC supporting augmented reality, geolocalization, file system access, but it’s currently hard to imagine (unless your name is Bondi) a near future where an application can effectively work across several platform without issues when even simply retrieving contacts info returns partial data. Yet they even talk about “backward compatibility” of WAC 2.0.

Let’s close this long article with another (how strange!) still open discussion in WAC: security. As any other issue, to approach security it is mandatory to consider how it will affect the user experience.

I couldn’t stand platforms continuously blocking apps from doing anything. (Why should I grant an app for taking picture to access my camera, of course I do!).

I could not stand sending my app to someone in the other part of the planet, paying in advance, waiting weeks in order to get it certified with recommendations to add some other warning pop ups.

Android model seems perfectible. I like reading the list of features the app is going to use. But for the rest is a matter of trusting the marketplace. And I would trust the distributor until something goes wrong and I will regret this.

WAC believes that trusting the distributor is the future direction, as well as explicit declaration of the purpose I am going to use any specific feature for. They also consider a few confirmation pop ups should be present anyway according to w3c powder model (human readable description of resources).

But they are still open to discuss, if you want.

[1] With terminals they consider smartphones, Set top boxes, PC/netbooks, tablets etc…

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