Reducing the number of mobile software platforms, but not by too much, is the key to unleashing pent up creativity in the mobile market, executives said on Wednesday.
But consolidation in the mobile industry is difficult and if it's not managed correctly, everyone will suffer, executives said during a panel discussion at the CTIA conference in Las Vegas.
"It would be relatively simple for us to just get along," said Christy Wyatt, vice president of software platforms and ecosystems for Motorola, who promoted support for a wide range of open standards, including mobile widgets.
The more standards the industry supports, the easier it will be for developers to build applications in the mobile world. But all of the platform developers and phone makers fear losing and so they are largely uncooperative with each other, she said.
"It's going to be painful for developers and we will force a bad outcome if we don't solve this fragmentation issue," she warned.
While convergence of platforms is key, if the industry isn't careful there will be too much consolidation, executives said.
"We've seen what happens when one provider becomes too dominant. There's a lack of innovation," said Ian McKerlich, director of mobile Web and content for T-Mobile. He was referring to the PC industry that is dominated by Microsoft and may have less innovation because of it.
"That's exactly right -- now we have an opportunity to try again with a slightly different plot twist," said Sumit Agarwal, head of mobile product management for Google in North America. Mobile companies can learn from the experience in the PC market and hopefully prevent the same outcome, he said.
Most of the panelists agreed that building applications for mobile phones is entirely too cumbersome, and while they didn't offer solutions, they recognized that the difficulties are smothering a potential boom.
Fragmentation extends beyond the technical issues of different devices with different screen sizes but also includes distribution where there are many channels, each with their own legal issues, payment and settlement rules, said Danny Winokur, a senior director at Adobe. "The result of that is pent up creativity in the developer community, in the content creation community," he said.
The difficult process has frustrated people who aren't able to overcome the "enormous amount of work required to navigate that system," he said.
If developers can bear to deal with the myriad agreements they have to sign and programs they have to navigate, it can pay off.
"In this economy right now that's not very strong, people have to be thoughtful. This is one market where there's still a lot of opportunity for developers. I would absolutely be building an application company now because there are so many new channels with all the new app stores," Wyatt said.
Having too many mobile platforms hurts more than just developers. Companies like Motorola simply can't afford to support the many mobile software platforms that already exist, she said.
This time last year, Motorola was supporting eight to 12 operating systems, and if you multiply that by the different chipset configurations which require different versions, the company was supporting closer to 30, she said. "It's not supportable. Not for me and not for my partners who spend all their money optimizing their game on 500 different hardware optimizations," she said.