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T-Mobile USA seen cloning iPhone's App Store

Hoping to ride the coattails of the App Store for iPhone and iPod touch, T-Mobile's US branch is allegedly developing a unified software store that would mimic Apple's but apply to every single device in the carrier's stable.

Rather than offer the usual app deck, which often varies by the phone operating system (as with Apple's solution) and even from device to device, T-Mobile would reportedly offer a store that covers all its devices, from simple phones that only support Java apps to smartphone-level operating systems such as Google Android and Windows Mobile.

The multiple sources making these claims to mocoNews also outline a submission and promotional system that will seem familiar to participants in the iPhone SDK Development Program. Much like Apple's App Store process, the T-Mobile service will make it easier for smaller developers to sell an app by submitting it online. Unlike some carrier-managed decks but closer to that for iPhone, T-Mobile is also believed to be taking a hands-off approach to highlighting apps that pass T-Mobile's scrutiny; users would simply see the most downloaded programs on top of searching for others.

Payment wouldn't be as simple as with the App Store, which sees Apple ask for a relatively low 30 percent cut of revenues regardless of app size or price. It's nonetheless perceived as "very generous" by those with early access and is largely dependent on the bandwidth used by a given app, with streaming video and other bandwidth-intensive software giving T-Mobile a greater slice of revenues than simple text-driven or offline apps.

T-Mobile has said nothing publicly about its plans but has already launched a developer site that would help software teams build their programs, although the carrier doesn't make any mention of its larger plans outside of allusions to "new ways to go to market" in the next several weeks.

Multiple factors are already thought to be coming into play, including the siphoning effect the iPhone has on its customer base. T-Mobile is relatively small and carries just 31.5 million active customers versus market leader AT&T's 72.9 million — a problem which is made all the more apparent by a growth rate half that of AT&T. While it took T-Mobile three months to add 668,000 users in the spring, Apple's iPhone 3G sold a million devices during its opening weekend alone — a large portion of which were bought by AT&T customers.

T-Mobile is also part of Google's Open Handset Alliance, which not only promotes Android but pushes the notion of open software development for cellphones.

With a single go-to location for apps, T-Mobile could potentially upturn the normally closed US cellular market, which has only recently begun to loosen its control over which programs customers can run with initiatives such as Verizon's Any Apps, Any Device and Sprint's unrestricted, WiMAX-based Xohm network. Still, the prize for T-Mobile is said by one developer to be less about revolutionizing the phone market and more about creating an allure for its service that transcends any one handset, in contrast to AT&T's dependence on the iPhone and other star devices.

"The App store was a big deal, but that’s one phone," the anonymous developer says. "This is an entire carrier."