AOL to launch mobile development platform

Developers can add another mobile open-application development platform to the mix, this time from AOL.

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Developers can add another mobile open-application development platform to the mix, this time from AOL.

AOL has said that in the middle of the year it hopes to release a platform that developers can use to create applications that can run on any mobile phone. The platform will be open, so that developers can improve it as they like, said Jai Jaisimha, vice president of mobile product and technology development at AOL.

The AOL Open Mobile Platform is based on technology that AOL acquired from a company called Airmedia last year. It requires an application on the mobile phone. The program, which is so small it is comparable in size to an average graphic, works in conjunction with back-end servers that take care of converting the application to the format the device requires.

Currently, developers who want to write applications for mobile devices face a daunting task because they must customize their application for the various popular phone operating systems. "So what this platform does is eliminate the need to learn all those different platforms because you can use a device agnostic markup language," said Jaisimha. The platform uses an XML-based markup language.

Even phones that run the same operating system often have different requirements, however. The phone application from AOL already works on more than 150 handsets, and since the application is open, developers will be able to tweak it to work on any additional handsets, Jaisimha said.

Developers will be able to use AOL services as part of their applications, but they don't have to. They also have the option to use AOL's advertising platform as a way to earn revenue from their programs.

AOL's idea has benefits over some other platforms. For example, developers who write applications in the Symbian environment or who plan to write Android applications are limited to phones running those operating systems.

But AOL isn't alone in its approach. Java Micro Edition, which runs on the majority of phones, was designed to allow developers to create Java applications that run on many phones. However, Java applications still often must also be tweaked for particular handsets. Plus, phone manufacturers must license JME from Sun if they intend to alter the program at all, which most do.

AOL also faces competition in Yahoo, which recently released documentation that lets developers build mobile widgets. That means AOL will compete with it for developer attention.

In addition, AOL faces the hurdle of distributing the handset application, a notable challenge because mobile users are typically disinclined to download anything onto their phones. Because the client is so small, developers can build it into their applications, so end-users could download the client along with the application, Jaisimha said. "But we also certainly hope and expect that carriers and device manufacturers will integrate the platform into devices," he said.

AOL is now entering into talks with developers who want to begin working on the platform immediately. It will otherwise keep developers up-to-date on the availability of the platform on its developer site.

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