LONDON/HELSINKI (Reuters) - Vodafone launched a Web service meshing social networks, contacts and entertainment in a bid to fend off stiff competition from Apple,, Google and Nokia.
Vodafone, the world’s largest mobile phone operator by revenue, said on Thursday its Vodafone 360 service would launch on two tailor-made Samsung phones and four Nokia phones in eight European countries by Christmas.
Vodafone 360 will allow users to store contacts from social networks such as Facebook and other Internet accounts in one place and will automatically synchronize to users’ computers.
The carrier is aiming to boost customer loyalty and data revenues in the face of fierce competition from Apple’s iPhone, RIM’s Blackberry and Google’s Android platform, which all offer applications such as games and music.
Analysts at CCS Insight described it as a radical move.
“Vodafone is hoping that it can seize the initiative back from Google, Nokia and others in the land-grab for the mobile Internet services space,” Shaun Collins said.
“Its challenge will be to offer consumers something compelling enough to stand out in such a crowded market.”
A catalog of over 1,000 applications will be available at launch and non-Vodafone customers will be able to access some of the services.
The two new Samsung phones will use LiMo’s operating system, in a boost for the platform based on open-source Linux software that can be used and modified for free, unlike proprietary systems such as Microsoft’s Windows Mobile.
The focus of the cell phone market has been shifting to software development since Google and Apple entered the mobile market, with phone vendors and operators increasingly looking for open-source alternatives such as LiMo to cut costs.
The backing of Vodafone and Samsung, the world’s second-largest phone maker, is seen as crucial for LiMo, which has so far been used by smaller handset vendors.
“Battle lines are being drawn — operator-friendly LiMo versus handset vendor-friendly Android,” said Neil Mawston from Strategy Analytics. “Expanding into Western Europe with Samsung and Vodafone will help LiMo to grow scale and spread risk.
LiMo hopes to benefit from its focus on giving greater say over software development to telecoms operators. Also, it does not compete with operators by offering services.
“LiMo allows Vodafone and other major operators to change the basis of their dialogue with Google,” Morgan Gillis, the head of LiMo, said in an interview.
The Nokia phones will be based on Symbian, the world’s most popular smartphone platform, and Vodafone said it planned eventually to roll out 360 to as many platforms and handset models as possible.
Editing by Simon Jessop and Louise Heavens