[guest blogger Thomas Menguy praises the virtues of web applications on the iPhone.. and realises how the mobile internet has already taken off]
Ok I admit, I have an iPhone. I love it, blablabla you know the story already. It has its flaws, but as an old time mobile software engineer I’m really stroked by one BIG fact: The applications I use the most on it are fully web based!: My IM messenger (JiveTalk), my english/french dictionary (Ultralingua), my mail and rss reader (special version of gmail and google reader) … even my all time favorite mobile game Bejeweled is web based!
What a shock.. I wasn’t prepared for that: when Steve Jobs told us that the only way to add application will be (at first) through the web browser I was the first to laugh, only raw C++ is meaningful for applications, a web browser is a mere toy compared to a real application framework.
How wrong I was. And here is why. (and no it won’t be only about the iPhone)
Unlimited and affordable data plan, and efficient bandwidth and coverage: I’m in Europe (France) and here network coverage and edge (2.5G) are very efficient.
Webkit and Mozilla : Webkit engine tends to begin the defacto mobile web browser (check what pleyo is doing) embedded in S60, MacOS, Android…the only other credible contender is the Nokia Mozilla version (my Nokia N800 is simply unbeatable for web browsing).
Raise of ad-hoc web services framework: the famous and numerous web widget frameworks (webwag being one to be noticed), and Yahoo GO for example.
And the biggest one which is vastly under looked: modern websites, sorry webservices, are fully Model/View/Controller (ruby on rails, but above all struts2, etc.) what does it means in human readable language? : it is VERY easy to adapt the content/services of a web site to different browsers / way of presenting data. Look at the plethora of “iPhone” optimized sites (ebay, dailymotion, facebook, etc) that have popped up everywhere in few months.
Those approaches have something in common
Need of a reliable wireless data link
Well architectured network backend to provide optimized business data and adapted rendering data (the last one is not mandatory, check RSS for example were the business data has no notion of representation in it).
An “On Client” web service framework: a browser with standard and added proprietary APIs like the iPhone Safari, a limited and fully proprietary engine like Yahoo Go!, or a full OS with the complete stack like Android and … the iPhone OS (OK, don’t forget the “old” high level OSes like S60 and WinMobile).
Everything seems to be in place, and from what we saw above a good web service client platform would have to:
Be fun to use and compelling, tailored for each user
Be VERY efficient for the phone common tasks (phone call, address book)
Offer a nice and easy way to deploy data representation and flow control from existing web services backends…with good performance and relatively wide access to the underlying platform and datas
For me the first two doesn’t have to be understated (just try a WinMobile phone for a few months to understand what I mean 🙂 ), as the device remains a phone, a communication machine and voice is still the undefeated champion for communication. This is where the iPhone is groundbreaking at a first sight…and also where I’m not sure of what Google Android will deliver (call me skeptical if you want…).
The third point may bring a lot of optimism … as it implies that we don’t need a single platform anymore, but a bunch of deployment possibilities, tailored for each device/client or even each service. Android and the iPhone may be seen as such a platform with at least two of those deployment possibilities: the browser and application native development, here Android is much more friendly to Java/Web programmer that the iPhone. But we could perfectly imagine devices with more deployment options or other completely different but close enough to web development standards to allow fast adaptation of web backends….why not an iPhone with an Android sandbox?
At the end the famous “cloud” (the network) is really shaping the “on device” clients, allowing more and more diversity and at there won’t be a “one fit all” solution…
Thanks Steve Jobs for being the first to have put in place all the elements of the chain, dealing with carriers, content provider, services providers…and coming with a great consumer electronic design.
Google wants to go further? not sure for now, but the US 700 MHz auction have to be followed very carefully cause if this spectrum becomes “free” of the carriers, we don’t know how fast it could go!