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Will "Mobile AJAX" Dominate Web 2.0?

Mobile AJAX Will Replace Both Java ME and XHTML, says Ajit Jaokar

In this article, which focuses on the impact of Ajax on mobile application development only (i.e. he does not discuss Ajax in general), SOA Web Services Edge speaker Ajit Jaokar contends that - since his e-mail, calendar and other applications are on the web, and he can store all my documents on the web, all he needs is a browser. "One client to rule them all! Thus, today I would use a ‘browser-only PC’," he adds.

Earlier this year, I published an article called AJAX for Mobile Devices Will Be the Hallmark of "Mobile Web 2.0" in 2006.

It created quite a stir .. and I am thankful for all the feedback. Specifically, I would like to thank C Enrique Oritiz , Thomas Landspurg , Paul Golding and Jan Standal (Opera) for their feedback.

Special thanks go to Paul Golding for brainstorming some of the ideas in this article with me.

I did not intend to write a follow-up – but the response warranted one. Clearly, I had not explained some views in detail while other concepts were being misunderstood. I strongly believe that the disruptive potential of AJAX in the mobile space is not fully appreciated.

This article will clarify some of the views I expressed before and also add new insights.

In keeping with my original article, this article will focus on the impact of Ajax on mobile application development only (i.e. we are not discussing Ajax in general here).

In this article, we are going to discuss -

  • The limitations of the browsing model on mobile devices and how these are being overcome
  • The impact of Ajax on mobile applications development
  • The potential of Ajax/browsing model to enable applications which target a large customer base.

I welcome your comments at ajit.jaokar at futuretext.com or use the Feedback form at the foot of the page here at ajaxworld. Please feel free to use sections of this article but you should acknowledge the source as http://ajax.sys-con.com/read/199481.htm and link back to the article.

Of Lawn Bowls and Long Tails

Consider the following scenario... Like most people, you were keenly following the Commonwealth Games as they were played in Melbourne. However, unlike most people, your favourite game is lawn bowling .

"Lawn what?" people ask you – since not many outside the Commonwealth have heard of your game. (For the 2008 Beijing Olympics, wikipedia caustically lists your game under the category of ‘Sports held as a demonstration, or of which the Olympic status is disputable’ ). So, you are glad that your game is at least being played in Melbourne. But the coverage sucks! The sexy games like swimming, boxing and athletics get all the fame and the glory.

You explain your plight to the friendly neighbourhood geek – who explains something called a ‘long tail’ to you. Apparently, you are it!

In most situations, 80% of the revenue comes from 20% of the products/services (depicted in red below). Thus, the remaining 80% of the products have low demand and low sales. These constitute the ‘long tail’ (such as lawn bowling). The principle of harnessing the ‘long tail’ argues that collectively, these low volume/low sales products can make up market share that equals or exceeds the few bestsellers – provided the distribution channel is large enough and the per unit production cost is low.

longtail.JPG

Now suppose we wanted to design a mobile application for the Commonwealth Games. The preparations would start many months ago. However, keeping the interests of your subscribers in mind, the designer would probably not focus much on the ‘lawn bowls’ section.

However, as a diehard lawn bowling fan, you want the whole works – blogs, polls, images, profiles, betting results and so on.

Can mobile web 2.0, Ajax and widgets help in this scenario? This article will show how.

Scope

The complete scope of this article is :

  1. Can all mobile applications be implemented using browsing technology?
  2. The possibilities of Mobile Ajax
  3. The evolution of mobile Ajax and the significance of Opera’s announcement
  4. Walled gardens, OpenGardens in context of the above approaches
  5. How does this approach contrast with Java ME, Symbian etc
  6. Mobile gaming
  7. Why mobile AJAX will replace both J2ME and XHTML as the preferred platform for mobile applications development
  8. The response/evolution of Java ME
  9. Conclusions

Can All Mobile Applications Be Implemented Using (Only) Browser Technology?

Before we start discussing mobile applications and Ajax, let us consider the question - Can all mobile applications be implemented using browser technology? In the PC/Internet world, the browser is fast becoming the universal client. However, there is a crucial difference between the PC world and the browser world.

Before we start discussing mobile applications and Ajax, let us consider the question - Can all mobile applications be implemented using browser technology? In the PC/Internet world, the browser is fast becoming the universal client. However, there is a crucial difference between the PC world and the browser world.

In the PC world, we need one type of program to run a specific type of application (‘Word’ to view word documents, ‘Excel’ to view spreadsheets and so on). In contrast, we can use the browser to view any type of application (i.e. one client for many applications). This makes application development much more optimal and less susceptible to software running on the client(in this case the PC).

Following on - we consider the browser and mobile applications ...With higher spec mobile devices, greater bandwidth etc let us consider the hypothetical question: Can ALL mobile applications be implemented using browsing technology?

After all, the browser works well on the PC as a universal client – why not on the mobile device? A corollary to this question could be:

  • When would you be forced to develop an application on a mobile device which is not run through a browser?
  • Are there some fundamental differences with browsing on a mobile device vs. browsing on the web?

Let’s consider the second point first. To understand the differences between browsing on the web and browsing on a mobile device, we have to consider factors such as

  • Intermittent connections – Unlike on the web, the wireless network connection is relatively unstable and is affected by factors such as coverage (you lose the connection in a tunnel) etc
  • Bandwidth limitations – For example - even when 3G coverage is available, the actual bandwidth is far less
  • The need for data storage on the client: If the device has no (or little) local storage, all data has to be downloaded every time. This is not optimal given intermittent and expensive bandwidth
  • Finally, and most importantly – A local application provides a richer user experience – especially for applications such as games.

There are other factors such as limited user input capabilities, screen sizes and so on. Some of the above factors are getting better (for example coverage blackspots are decreasing) – but the overall user experience remains one of the most important factors.

Thus, the answer to our hypothetical question is – No. We cannot develop all mobile applications using the browser only. However, as we shall discuss below, the architecture of browsing applications is changing and the distinctions between the browsing and downloading applications are not as clear cut as before.

On one hand, local and native applications offer the advantage of a better user interface. However, they suffer from some significant disadvantages - in that the application has to cover a diverse range of devices, operating systems, screen sizes, user interfaces, multiple software releases etc. This leads to fragmentation (see more details on the next page).


NEXT PAGE: The Possibilities of Mobile Ajax

More Stories By Ajit Jaokar

Ajit Jaokar is the author of the book 'Mobile Web 2.0' and is also a member of the Web2.0 workgroup. Currently, he plays an advisory role to a number of mobile start-ups in the UK and Scandinavia. He also works with the government and trade missions of a number of countries including South Korea and Ireland. He is a regular speaker at SYS-CON events including AJAXWorld Conference & Expo.

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