Monday, June 18, 2007

Sneaking through a hole in a walled garden

I live in Madrid, it is a beautiful city and the capital of Spain. It is a nice place to live with lot of public gardens where all citizens can enjoy. But this has not always been so. Take as an example the Retiro ( It was conceived as a rest place for kings and their kindred around the end of XVII century. Only in the early XIX century, some citizens where allowed to walk inside certain parts of it, and only if they commit to certain "good manners". It was only in the last century when this park was open to the public. And becoming a public garden, allowing all citizens to enjoy it, walking, bicycling, etc., was how it got to realize its full potential. By now, you should be asking what has to do all of this with mobile technologies. Good, let me put you in context:

Ok, I must say that I totally agree with the article from Eugene. And I must say that the problem he points to is no special case of the US, but is a general one also in Europe. Perhaps not so hard, as it is possible to deploy third party applications on most terminals from any carrier (be it J2ME or Symbian). Although, in practical terms this hardly makes a difference as most subscribers are not willing to download any applet :-(

However, it is true that enhancing the browser capabilities in mobile phones, and making them more similar to what we expect to have on a normal laptop will ease the deployment of mobile applications. This is already happening, as most mobiles include nowadays browsers with capabilities close to those of their PC counterparts. But this will be boosted with the iPhone coming out, including a full featured Safari browser. This will allow to have full web style applications on the phones with AJAX interfaces, including all multimedia elements, also with proven good development frameworks, like those built around J2EE, and allowing to easily integrate with all the IT infraestructure in most corporations. This in turn will reduce development and operational costs of mobile applications.

This looks nice, as it may allow application developers to slip through a hole in the carriers walled garden. However, this is not the end of the story, there is still one important element: usability. And this puts the challenge once again on the application developers side. I mean, having web style applications in the phone is nice. But you cannot expect all subscribers to use those applications in the same way they use web desktop applications. So, new user interaction paradigms must be developed: involving touch screens, multimodal interfaces where the user can navigate through voice and get the result in the mobile browser, and why not, even navigation through gestures (ok, I know, I know, I should get a Wii and forget about all this ;-)


Javier said...

I totally agree with Saul about browsers becoming the key element for application development in mobile devices, and also that it will be required brand new interfaces, like voice interaction, to improve usability. Anyway, in my opinion mobile browsers must be much more ambitious and go a step forward. They should be able to execute applications that do not interact with servers, but with resources local to the mobile phone. They should become a sort of gui engines with a common programming interface (HTML, JavaScript, etc) that could be used even by native applications (Agenda, Message applications, etc). With this philosophy, downloads are somehow hidden by the browsing experience, that seems to be more accepted among users.

juan said...

Fully supported SVGT (and even mobile ajax) by independent browser company adapting their browser to open OS (windows mobile, symbian and LIDO) and propietary OS of mid tiers of top suppliers (Nokia, Motorola, SonyEricsson, Samsung) will be a right approach to boost mobile services.

With this market neutral solutions it could be warranted a compatible powerful browsing capabilities in 80% of devices without overloading development deparments of mobile vendors.

juan mateu

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