Microsoft brings web apps to feature phones

Microsoft today is launching OneApp, a new software application that allows “feature phones” to run popular mobile phone applications such as Facebook, Twitter, Windows Live Messenger and Mobile Wallet.

Feature phones are mobile phones that are capable of running some apps but that lack the capabilities of smartphones.

Amit Mital, corporate vice president of Microsoft’s Unlimited Potential Group and Startup Business Accelerator, says OneApp will help bring more applications and services to emerging markets such as those served by Blue Label Telecoms of South Africa, the launch partner for the new technology. “OneApp is a technology that is going to help people do things they couldn’t do before — anything from paying their bills to helping diagnose their health issues or just staying connected with friends and family,” Mital says.

More than half of the people in the world own mobile phones, but many of those phones have difficulty accessing popular mobile applications, including social applications such as Facebook and other helpful applications to deal with finances, healthcare, tourism and education.

“When people see these apps running on a feature phone, their eyes light up. It’s pretty exciting,” says Tim McDonough, senior director of Mobile Product Management at Microsoft. “What we’re letting you do is get access to the applications and services you want from a device you already own. If you don’t own a PC, or you share a PC, your mobile phone may be your first or only computing device.”

McDonough says OneApp will complement Microsoft’s Windows Mobile strategy. OneApp was designed from the ground up, with emerging markets in mind, to help users gain more power from feature phones that have limited memory, processing and other capabilities. For users, it appears as a single application through which they can access all the mobile apps they want.

To keep the phone running quickly and efficiently, OneApp has a small footprint (150KB) and its apps are even smaller (about 30KB).

OneApp also includes a cloud service to deliver applications as they are needed. This means users can store and access their apps without needing to store them on the phone.

Blue Label Telecom’s “mibli” service in South Africa will be the first to offer users access to OneApp. Microsoft is beginning to look at working with others in emerging markets worldwide to make OneApp available to more customers, with the overall goal of creating new growth opportunities for the industry and meaningful, relevant solutions for local communities.

A mibli subscriber in South Africa will be able to use Facebook, Twitter, and Windows Live Messenger. In addition, developers can also create apps for the local needs of an area.

“Developers can dive into specific needs of users in different places, where there can be remarkable diversity of what people want to do with their phones,” McDonough says. “What might be relevant to India may not be so relevant to China or South Africa.”

In South Africa, Blue Label Telecom’s Mobile Wallet is a popular feature on phones. Rather than carrying cash, which can be dangerous, customers can use their phones to access or transfer their money, or make payments. In India, people could use their phone to purchase a train ticket rather than making a special trip to the station.

In the past, developers have found creating feature phone applications difficult due to the wide variety of handsets. OneApp allows independent software vendors (ISVs) to develop an application once, and have it reach a wider audience and work on all feature phones that have OneApp installed, rather than developing and maintaining an app for 50 or 100 different kinds of phones.

Says McDonough: “This is a problem they’ve been trying to solve themselves. Particularly in the feature phone market, which is so large and so fragmented. This solution meets needs and unlocks their ability to reach users efficiently.”

Thanks Wreiad for the tip.

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