When the market can't decide – European Commission to address mobile fragmentation

In another example of Europe’s bureaucrats leaving themselves open to accusations that they’re meddling in issues that are best left to the marketplace, the European Commission has announced the launch of MOSQUITO (Mobile software and services, Standardisation, Quality, Interoperability, Testing, Open source), a €700,000 research project to “develop a better understanding of the issues and consequences of mobile app fragmentation”.

MOSQUITO, a collaborative project comprised of six companies, inno, ETSI, France Telecom, Telecommunication Metrology Center of MIIT, Funambol and IBBT, is part of the 7th Framework Programme, a European Union “initiative” responsible for research and technological development. It will undertake a two year programme to document fragmentation issues that prevent the development of mobile internet apps and services.

MOSQUITO will look to endorse “an open standards approach, including open source, to address mobile fragmentation”, says Fabrizio Capobianco, CEO of Funambol, one of the companies involved in the project.

He also notes that “this issue is likely to get worse before it gets better”, which, I would argue, is exactly why a state-backed research project like MOSQUITO is completely unnecessary.

The mobile devices industry is in its infancy, with multiple platforms competing for the attention of operators, developers and, ultimately, consumers. Everyone agrees that there are probably too many platforms, creating inefficiencies and duplication for app developers, and possibly confusion for consumers who don’t want to, in the long run, pick the loser. But, on the other hand, in most consumer markets we’d be celebrating having so much competition and choice. Either way, the market will sort this all out.

Right now it’s looking like Apple, Android and RIM are winning the hearts and minds of developers, but nobody should write off HP’s Palm with WebOS just yet or the relaunched Windows Phone. Then, of course, there’s the incumbent Symbian OS, which bizarrely, the EC has just thrown a pile of cash at, despite it being largely used by a single vendor (Nokia). And we’ve yet to see what the market makes of MeeGo, the open source collaboration between Nokia and Intel. How does the future hope of HTML5 and cross-platform browser-based apps fit into all of this. Again, it’s early days.

So, yes, the market is probably too fragmented but does it really require €700,000 of public money to understand why and what the consequences are, when ultimately it’s unstoppable and will to some extent resolve itself in time. But actually, MOSQUITO doesn’t appear to be a purely academic exercise, with part of its remit being to “develop market solutions”.

Good luck with that.