Verizon readying new VCast Apps store

It plans to unveil the new, faster system at its developer conference in September

Verizon Wireless will introduce a new version of its VCast Apps store to developers at its Verizon Developer Conference in September, improving the experience for both app creators and consumers, an executive said Wednesday.

VCast Apps is Verizon's own app storefront on handsets. The carrier populates the store with apps that have been tested for security, usability and power and bandwidth efficiency. It works with developers to help them meet those standards and create better apps, said Kyle Malady, Verizon's vice president of network and technology. He described the new app-store effort in an interview at the opening of Verizon's Application Innovation Center (AIC) in San Francisco, where the carrier plans to work with developers and connect them with potential hardware and software partners.

"The first VCast Apps store missed the mark a little bit," Malady said. For one thing, consumers found it slow to browse the store and download apps. Developers also ran into delays, he said.

"We had a hard time ingesting a lot of the apps into the system in an efficient way," Malady said, because the process involved a lot of time-consuming manual effort. Also, the carrier has been more stringent than it needed to be in the past. "We're not looking for perfection," he said.

Verizon has now addressed both issues, he said.

"It's going to be a much better system for developers to use," Malady said. The goal now is to get apps onto the store within two weeks. The company has already started talking to developers about the new store, and it should be ready around the time of the developer conference, which is taking place in Las Vegas on Sept. 13-14, he said.

Verizon sees its app store as one among a plethora of platforms, including the iTunes App Store, the Android Market and others. What makes it unique is the ability to buy an app and pay for it on a Verizon phone bill, as well as the assurance that what's offered is certified to work well on Verizon's network and the devices the carrier sells.

Though Verizon still acts as a gatekeeper that can determine which apps can be sold in the store, it's more open than the carrier "walled gardens" of the past, Malady said. Verizon welcomes developers to work with it, using its APIs (application programming interfaces) and taking advantage of Verizon engineers' expertise with the carrier's network and devices that work on it, he said.

This is what Verizon hopes to do at the AIC, along with matching developers with partners that can solve software or hardware challenges they may be facing in creating their apps and getting them onto the VCast Apps store, Malady said.

The center, located in an office building near San Francisco's waterfront, includes an isolated testbed network that replicates Verizon's LTE (Long-Term Evolution) network. Developers can also find current and pre-commercial devices to test their apps on, and meet with Verizon engineers who are based there to help them, the company said.

The AIC complements Verizon's LTE Innovation Center, opened earlier this year in Waltham, Massachusetts, where the carrier works with developers of devices for the LTE network. In time, the two centers will collaborate on joint projects to drive forward new uses of the high-speed network, said David Small, vice president and chief technical officer of Verizon Wireless.

Though Verizon had rolled out new networks before, the introduction of the high-capacity LTE network posed new technical challenges in populating the network with devices and applications, Small said.

"We recognized from the beginning that the potential for innovation is bigger than Verizon alone," Small said.

Stephen Lawson covers mobile, storage and networking technologies for The IDG News Service. Follow Stephen on Twitter at @sdlawsonmedia. Stephen's e-mail address is stephen_lawson@idg.com

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