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BBC launches new mobile apps, slams device fragmentation

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Opinion piece by Tony Cripps, datamonitor. At MWC the UK broadcaster unveiled plans to launch several new mobile applications, showcasing its news, sport, and TV content. The BBC News app will arrive first, with the iPhone version leading the way in April.

But while the BBC is enthusiastic about using the latest devices to show off its content to best advantage, it is already finding the extent of software fragmentation between devices a burden.

In his keynote, Erik Huggers, director of the BBC's Future Media & Technology division, attacked the mobile industry. "As a broadcaster we're used to broadcasting once and the receivers just work…Why should we have to reformat our apps for every device?"

In some ways this is an old story: device-side fragmentation has always been the enemy of application developers. However, where the industry has previously played little more than lip service to the issue, it is now setting itself up for major problems.

Fragmentation is fast becoming a major obstacle to increased growth, at a time when mainstream content providers are showing unprecedented interest in the mobile channel and when mobile content consumption is rapidly increasing among users.

Even big content providers such as the BBC have financial constraints that will prevent them being able to reach all consumers equally. The cost of application development, porting, and maintenance is not trivial.

The end result is that content providers will naturally come to favor some platforms over others, based on a combination of installed base, demographics of users on particular platforms, "feel good factor", and other variables.

Until a common cross-platform application environment for devices becomes a reality, the entire value system around mobile content will suffer.

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