Qualcomm Plaza: YAMWP, But One Worth Watching

I was out in San Diego a while back for Qualcomm’s annual BREW confab. It’s pretty easy to think of Qualcomm as this monolithic and slightly nasty company that does little more than bully its way to profits with patents and intellectual property and some chips, and is only interested in things that lead to more CDMA device sales so it can grab more royalties. That may or may not be the case, but I do think there’s some pretty interesting stuff coming out of the company’s Internet Services unit that’s not solely CDMA-centric and is genuinely cool.

One thing that caught my eye is the Plaza widget technology it announced. On the face of it, Plaza is YAMWP — yet another mobile widget platform. But this is one that definitely bears watching for several reasons, but one of them being Qualcomm wants operators involved. That’s likely to cause some kickback right away, because for many people, operators have a reverse Midas touch. But it’s important to remember that they still play a huge role as gatekeepers to the mass market, and their support of one widget platform over another, and the ability to give it a prominent place on the devices they sell, give them a lot of power as kingmakers.

Plaza is not a BREW-specific solution, it’ll be available across multiple platforms, and the QIS exec I talked to about it went to lengths to stress that Plaza and BREW are separate, but complementary technologies. That said, it’s easy to see how some of the lessons and strengths of BREW could be rolled into Plaza and strengthen it. For instance, BREW offers a pretty solid end-to-end application discovery and download solution. It’s completely closed, yes, but it’s probably about the closest thing out there to the iPhone App Store (which, of course, is closed too).

The BREW marketplace is really good at monetization, especially from the operator perspective. So it’s easy to see how Qualcomm could put some similar stuff into Plaza, and create this widget environment that operators would love, charging users for each widget and all the content coming through them. But, they don’t want to. They get that for widgets to take off, they can’t work that way. They see the monetization for the operator coming indirectly, and forsee the widgets themselves being free to download. That said, if an operator wanted to offer their own widgets as gateways to pay services alongside the Plaza gallery of free widgets, that’s an option. But Qualcomm sees Plaza as primarily being a tool for operators to improve the user experience, increase takeup of data services, and reduce churn.

I think the parts of BREW that Qualcomm hopes will most show through in Plaza are the relative ease of the developer experience and its appeal to operators. By embracing operators and making them part of the value chain, Qualcomm can steal a lead over other mobile widget platforms.

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