Yesterday, several mobile fanatics attended the Mass Technology Leadership Council (MassTLC) event discussing the topic of Integration in a Fragmented Mobile World. Andrew Borg (Aberdeen Group) and four more mobile development leaders, Raj Aggarwal (Localytics), Nick Brachet (Skyhook Wireless), Alex Donn (AT&T), Bill Gianoukos (HeyWire), run an excellent panel and engaged the curious audience. The subject was the familiar topic of mobile development environments and the best approach to create mobile applications.
Tom’s blog provides a good summary; you can also find here my notes as transcribed while the discussion was in progress. In this blog, I address two areas stimulated from the discussions during the meeting: the actors of successful mobile applications and the role of HTML5 as a mobile development environment.
A successful mobile application requires a harmonized implementation of an excellent user interface on a capable and “sexy” mobile device using as little possible network bandwidth. It has been recognized that user experience is the most important factor to attract the right demographics and to entice prolonged use of the application. App developers, the “brains” behind the concept and design, fully understand this. Original Device Manufacturers (ODMs) continue innovating with more capable smartphones; balancing features with cost and targeting devices to specific application domains has been their number one challenge. The ecosystem also requires the operators & carriers to provide cost effective infrastructures i.e. sufficient bandwidth with consistent latencies.
Life becomes more interesting because of the coupling of these three actors:
In the past, especially in the US, operators were trying to dominate and dictate devices and applications; in APAC and possibly in EMEA, ODMs were driving demand for applications and, to some degree, forcing network evolution. But today and the forthcoming years, the main drivers of the ecosystem are the applications; ODMs and operators must provide the best resources to enable popular applications in a cost effective manner.
Three Application Development Paradigms
Mobile application developers face a myriad of design challenges; they need to be stricken by the right idea, focus to specific opportunities, identify target demographics, decide on a roll-out plan, and by the way, design and implement this thing! Their life becomes more interesting because they have to choose one or a combination of the following development environments:
The first environment is the most sticky (i.e. users continue using the application forever) but it is also the most difficult to develop and test due to the 100’s of variations. The second environment is easy to deploy but does not provide a fluid user interface and the perceived value can be questioned. The last approach balances the tradeoffs between the other two. One of the panelist of this event said it very representatively:
all mobile phones are broken
Five-six years ago, the world was moving to a universal development environment based on J2ME and the various MIDP extensions. The app developers were about to get a break and finally realize the dream of develop once and deploy many. In reality, this dream was never realized. Today, HTML5 promises a better future; but is this a reality or hype? Why HTML5 will be more successful than the old, well thought J2ME?
Here are my thoughts on this:
So, I do want to believe that the industry is on the right track; I would register though one more requirement which I have not seen in the standards yet:
an escape mechanism to native mobile code, that is, to be able to write a driver or DLL or a piece of native code and expose access via an HTML5 primitive of unique hardware sensors or functionality. Of course, over time, such escape mechanisms will have to folded to the standard mobile HTML5+
Please post your thoughts on this!