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The Mobile Web Future: It's Complicated

Wed, 10/06/2010 - 8:53am
Brad Smith

SAN FRANCISCO—The mobile phone browser already is a central part of the mobile application world but is going to become an even bigger element in the future, speakers at the Mobile Web & Apps World Forum said Tuesday.

The forum, which is in its fourth year, was a prelude to the CTIA Enterprise & Applications show at the Moscone Center West. It featured browser and software companies, developers, analysts and manufacturers.

Although the mobile phone operating system continues to be fragmented and is becoming more fragmented with the iPhone and Android, several speakers said the mobile phone experience can become more unified through the browser and Internet protocols like hypertext markup language (HTML). The latter is the de facto technology for Web content.

Jon von Tetzchner, a co-founder and CEO of Norway-based browser company Opera, said the Web is the common platform that all phone operating systems and browsers can use. He said technologies like WAP and dot-mobi were destined to fail because they forced a different user experience. Most people want to have the same access to Web content on their phone as they have on a computer, even though it may be rendered differently, he said.

Von Tetzchner told the developers that most of the applications they write are going to have to be Web-based using Widgets. And Web apps, he said, doesn't mean they will be in the cloud but will use the browser to run.

"Widgets are single-purpose access points to Web content and services," he said. "Consumers get instant access to what they want."

Benoit Shillings, chief technology officer with the mobile software company Myriad Group, said it is clear the mobile browser will be the center of the battle over the future of mobile computing. But, he said, although browsers access HTML-based content, they should be viewed as tools for Web navigation.

Shillings predicted a future where there will be a hybrid mobile solution combining the frameworks of both the Web and the mobile browser. The mobile phone future will combine features of social networking, location, data synchronization, search, security and semantic data such as user behavior.

Matt Womer, the ubiquitous Web activity lead for the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C), explained that although the next iteration of HTML, called HTML5, may not become a standard for another decade, some of its tools can be developed now. HTML5 has a richer user interface and enables features like embedded video and graphics, he said. It also has an offline mode so users might keep their email on their phone even though they don't have access to the Web.

Womer said there has been a lot of attention paid to HTML5 and its potential for geo-location, but that is only one potential future use.

Whatever the future holds for mobile Web and applications, analyst Chetan Sharma said there are two certainties – the ecosystem will become more complex and mobile data use will continue to climb.

"It is very hard to predict what the market will look like in the coming months," he said. "Apple's iPhone and Android didn't even exist a few years ago and now auto manufacturers are becoming more active."

Sharma said there is a definite trend toward more app stores for phones and other devices, driven by the growth of 3G networks and the use of smartphones. But he said more and more of the apps are going to be off-deck, putting the carriers out of the data revenue picture unless they enable their own ecosystems.

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