Yahoo is trying to carve out its niche in the mobile market with a newly expanded platform for mobile application developers. The company’s Blueprint platform will now allow for the creation of standalone apps for any Java, Windows Mobile or Symbian device, executives revealed at a wireless industry conference in San Francisco on Wednesday. It will also provide tools for developers to build mobile-focused Web sites.
Until recently, the platform was used primarily just for the creation of widgets within Yahoo’s own Go application. Now, Yahoo is using the expanded Blueprint features to create its own versatile programs and has plans for widespread expansion in mind.
The overarching goal of Blueprint is to make mobile app creation universal (at least, semi-universal — Android, the product of Yahoo rival Google, is notably absent from the list of supported platforms). Yahoo’s programmers have been at work for years trying to reach that point.
“Up until now … it’s [been] incredibly difficult to make [apps] work with many different devices,” Alex Linde, Yahoo’s program manager for Blueprint, told TechNewsWorld. “We’ve seen a lot of excitement in the market about things like the iPhone SDK, and really, it’s great — people have written some fantastic applications for it — but ultimately it only works on one phone,” he said.
The challenge Linde and his team saw was emulating the ubiquity of a PC-based platform such as Windows in the mobile world. Thus far, that kind of standard has not been reached.
“That viral distribution, that spread of information that’s happened on PCs and happened in other media, just doesn’t work on mobile,” Linde pointed out. “With Blueprint, you can write an application once. I can look at it on my iPhone, show it to you, and you can just try it on your Blackberry and tell your friend and try it on his Motorola Razr. Any of these phones will work with Blueprint,” he noted.
Along with the expanded platform, Yahoo announced a new Blueprint-created app of its own called “OneConnect.” Oddly enough, given Blueprint’s goal of mobile ubiquity, the program is thus far only available for the iPhone — though versions for other platforms are expected to be released soon.
OneConnect attempts to serve as a social networking center for the cell phone, letting users connect to feeds from networks such as Facebook, MySpace and Bebo/a> right within their address books. It also pulls in e-mail, instant messaging, and text features into one centralized place.
“A lot of mobile users today don’t start their mobile experience with a browser. They don’t start with a search box. They tend to start in a lot of cases with the address book on the phone,” Linde explained. “What we tried to figure out in a mobile device is how could we make the address book into a starting point,” he said.
OneConnect is being offered free for U.S. users initially, with plans to expand to other nations over the coming months.
Yahoo’s goal with its mobile program is understandable, but the idea of a unified, widespread development system is drawing its share of doubts.
“Obviously, they’re looking at Microsoft as kind of the inspiration for this, and the advantages they’ve had with the Windows platform,” Parks Associates Director of Research John Barrett told TechNewsWorld. “I just don’t see that being replicated in the mobile space. Computers are fairly standardized, fairly flexible — but there’s a much greater difference between phone-to-phone than PC-to-PC,” he said.
Another issue, Barrett believes, is the fact that the carriers have such strong connections with their phones. They’re more interested, then, in maximizing the potential of each specific device than in sticking with a specific overall platform.
“I think what you’re going to see is some vendors and some operators … looking at the different offerings out there and [saying] for this particular phone, Android makes sense, or for that particular phone, Apple makes sense,” Barrett said.
“I don’t think that there’s going to be one winner,” he added.
Yahoo, of course, hopes that prediction is wrong — but then again, so does Google. And Microsoft. And Apple. For a goal of a singular solution, there sure are a lot of players trying to scramble to the front of the line.