Mobile World Congress: AT&T Urges Anti-App-Store Open Mobile Ecosystem

AT&T Inc. might be the exclusive U.S. carrier for the notoriously closed iPhone, but that didn’t stop AT&T Mobility chief Ralph de la Vega from promoting the idea of an open applications and interface ecosystem for mobile devices at his keynote at Mobile World Congress on Tuesday. Is the carrier bucking Apple Inc., whose M.O. has been to virtually cut out carrier partners from the applications side of things?

De la Vega made a plea to industry leaders to come together for a common set of applications and APIs that will reach across device and OS stacks, to combat fragmentation and jumpstart data services use.

It’s an idea with legs when you consider what interoperability did for SMS messaging: Since users don’t have to worry anymore about whether a recipient’s network and handset will support the application, volume has exploded, making it the most profitable mobile data service globally. Bringing that to other functionality could represent an enormous opportunity. “We have islands of applications,” de la Vega said. “There’s a huge risk to our industry if we don’t get this straightened out.”

The iPhone, of course, runs contrary to this idea as a model, given that the App Store offerings that run on the device and the iPod Touch are not interoperable with any other handset. “Obviously the iPhone has been successful, but I think it would be even more so if there was commonality among applications,” said de la Vega.

He urged handset manufacturers to consider the BONDI standard as one step, which standardized key interfaces from Web services to mobile devices, with security. “We have to find a way for applications to work across devices, platforms and operating systems,” de la Vega said. “I think we should use standard APIs (application programming interfaces) … that would allow developers to access platforms worldwide.”

No word from Apple in response to the comments. The company is not attending Mobile World Congress.

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