PlayPhone challenges the app store status quo

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Few consumers look to carriers to provide the best mobile apps--combine that with the dominance of Apple's App Store and Google Play, and it's easy to understand why it's been so hard for established players in telecom to get much traction in the app sales segment. Verizon, for example, finally shuttered its V Cast app store early this year after much criticism, and Vodafone's AppSelect app store suffered a similar fate not long before. What may be increasingly common on many handsets in the near future is an alternative app store called PlayPhone that's managed to form partnerships with a number of the major carriers.

PlayPhone describes itself as a social gaming service with more than 350 titles from Big Blue Bubble, 11Bits and several other independent developers. The company has signed up Verizon Wireless and most recently Sprint to offer its store pre-loaded on select Android smartphones. PlayPhone has also partnered with AT&T on an HTML5 store. Those who use it will be able to purchase apps via carrier billing, meaning their payments will simply be added onto their regular phone bill rather than being managed as a separate credit card transaction.

Bhaskar Roy, PlayPhone's chief product officer, said the "frictionless" element of carrier billing is one of the most compelling reasons why the concept of owning an app store--even if it's just a white-labeled version of PlayPhone--remains attractive to major carriers. "In the first wave of app stores, carriers were looking at how they could bring it in-house. They built the server farms in-house, got all the games themselves, and tried to do it end to end. But those are pretty big costs. What we provide is software-as-a-service, in the cloud, thereby they can get economies of scale." Feature

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