Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Mobile devices and mobile Web applications

Beginning of 2000, I had colleagues developing applications for mobile phones. The calendar service offered by the company then named CS&T (renamed in Steltor later, and then acquired by Oracle in 2003) was using the Wireless Access Protocol (WAP [1, 2]) and SyncML [3] to convey scheduling information up to mobile devices and to return end-users' updates. Event notifications were sent by SMS [4]. Because WAP and SMS are standards implemented by most of the wireless networks (GSM, CDMA, PDC, DECT, etc. [5]), and because they can be processed by many devices (mobile phones, pagers, smartphones, etc.), it was a successful feature.

Today, mobile devices are not just connected to one Telecommunication Operator (telco) network: they can be connected to computers via Bluetooth [6, 7] and directly to Ethernet networks by Wi-Fi [8, 9] and soon by WiMAX [10].

And these additional networks offer more bandwidth to mobile applications.

At the same time networks offer a better service, the power of mobile devices increases [11]. With their relatively wide screens, there is less and less reason to define specific User Interfaces (UI) for the mobile applications. What we did in the past with SynchML can be easily achieved with a modern browser (Webkit based for the iPhone and Android smartphones) running a JavaScript engine. In that sense, I would say like others [12, 13] that the “Mobile Web is dead”.

Web applications are good because they provide a sandbox (no general file system access, limited connection capabilities) and because they can be rendered seamlessly almost everywhere thanks to the browser Firefox [14]. A key element of Web applications is the URL addressing: this piece of information can be embedded everywhere (in an e-mail, in a document, in a Web page, etc.). URLs can be bookmarked by the browser, by a remote service, or as a desktop shortcut. End-users can check the navigation history, can go back and forth, can reload, can open in a new tab or a new window. Thanks to their ubiquity, their safety, and their usability, Web applications deliver really good user experiences.

Because rich feature set of the new handheld devices [11], there are new integrations that Web applications cannot deliver! Consider Google Maps on the iPhone [15] or its equivalent Map View on Android [16]: there are both native applications that use the GPS, the Compass, the multi-touch screen (to zoom in and out, for example). A Web applications can hardly do it today without requiring the end-user to download a browser plugin.

It seems that Web applications will have a hard time competing with native applications on top handheld platforms. If browsers on such platforms do not evolve, all the benefits of Web applications (as mentioned above for end-users, but also for service providers and development teams) will be lost because end-users will mostly look for fully integrated applications!

Does it means that “Mobile Web is dead” can be transformed in “Web is dead on Mobile”? I hope not. What is your opinion?

A+, Dom
  1. Wireless Access Protocol (WAP) by Wikipedia
  2. WAP by the International Engineering Consortium
  3. SyncML by Wikipedia
  4. Short Messaging Service (SMS) by Wikipedia
  5. Global Service for Mobile communications (GSM), Code Division Multiple Access (CDMA), Personal Digital Cellular (PDC), Digital Enhanced Cordless Telecommunication (DECT): list of mobile phone standards
  6. Bluetooth by Wikipedia
  7. How Bluetooth works by the Bluetooth Special Interest Group (SIG)
  8. Wi-Fi by Wikipedia
  9. Wi-Fi Alliance
  10. WiMAX by Wikipedia
  11. Handheld devices and sensors
  12. End of the mowser by Russel Beattie
  13. Russell Beattie was Right, the Mobile Web is Dead by Dare Obasandjo
  14. Get Firefox ;)
  15. iPhone3G: Maps with GPS 
  16. Android Map View

No comments:

Post a Comment