Having been away from my desk for the past week or so, the only clouds which have recently impinged on my consciousness were those that occasionally threatened to disrupt a family holiday in Wales, or those which John Barrowman sang about during a rendition of Joni Mitchell’s “Both Sides Now” in the course of a cheesy, schmaltzy, camp and thoroughly entertaining open-air concert in the grounds of Arundel Castle.
But on my return, while the rainclouds have followed me from Cardiff to Basingstoke, another cloud has made an appearance within the mobile environment, and this one has Bill Gates’ name on it. Microsoft has launched OneApp, a software application which draws on a cloud to enable mid-range handsets to run apps which were previously limited to smartphones, such as Facebook, Twitter, Windows Live Messenger and Mobile Wallet.
OneApp itself is comparatively small – around 150kB – while the apps it enables in turn are 30kB or less, as they are only delivered to the end-user as and when required, thereby reducing the on-handset requirements.
Microsoft has clearly recognized that the immediate the opportunity cloud-based apps lies in emerging markets, given that (a) the proportion of smartphones in such markets are extremely low and (b) fixed broadband access is limited. Thus, an “app enabler” such as OneApp can increase the potential user-base for popular apps (and presumably, medium term, apps sold via the yet-to-launch Windows Marketplace) by several hundred percent. With this in mind, the first app to launch with OneApp will be the mibli m-commerce service offered by the South African provider Blue Telecom.
While Microsoft is playing catch-up in the mobile apps game – the company has even failed to become the first provider of a Windows storefront, thanks to some sharp work from Handmark – it is the first major player in the mobile space to launch a cloud-based enabler. It is not the first to offer the potential of app stores to an audience beyond smartphones (Nokia will soon offer the Ovi Store to mass market handsets), but its cloud-based model means that consumers should be able to access a significantly higher number of apps, as the bulk of the app activity occurs within the cloud.
From an app developer perspective, OneApp also offers the additional advantage of removing the necessity of porting an app across multiple handsets: Microsoft has said that once a given app has been developed, it will work across all handsets that have OneApp installed. This may not be quite as enticing to third-parties as the simplicity of the iPhone, but it removes a costly and time-consuming stage from app development.
Very early days, then, but given its status in the vanguard of the mobile cloud movement – not to mention the substantial clout of its creator - I await future announcements regarding OneApp with interest…