SoonR or later, Mobile Ajax had to become mainstream ..

I had predicted at the beginning of the year that Ajax will lead to a resurgence of mobile browsing applications. It has taken just a few short months to see this vision turned into a live application. This week, SoonR launched the first true Mobile Ajax application. Based on the Opera platform, SoonR’s service truly leverages the power of Mobile Ajax.

I believe Mobile Ajax applications are a new and emerging class of applications, and this service is a trendsetter of a new wave of Mobile Web applications.

Here are some of the aspects of the service which showcase the power of this new class of applications:

a) The application is completely browser based – no software to install on the client

b) It uses the power of Ajax to manage data, reducing latency , loading time and increases response time

c) It provides a better user interface using a web application that is closer to a native/PC based application than a typical web application

d) Distribution is via the web (but the application can also be distributed by the carriers)

The application itself provides a simple but useful service. In a nutshell, the SoonR service lets mobile users access their computers from any Internet-connected mobile handset.

A SoonR service runs on the desktop. People can use their Desktop to search and access documents, images, Organizer for email, scheduling, contacts and ‘SoonR Talk’ for mobile VoIP.

The key aspect here is; all this information is available to any mobile client without the need of synchronization or any additional software on the client. Much of this is achieved through the power of Ajax, very much on the lines of Mobile Web 2.0 which I have been talking about in my book.

To recap from the first principles of Mobile Ajax: The intent is to make web pages feel more responsive by exchanging small amounts of data with the server behind the scenes, so that the entire web page does not have to be reloaded each time the user makes a change. This improves interactivity, speed, and usability and a dramatically better user experience.

Contrast this with the WAP/XHTML.

We have a relatively poor user interface in a WAP application. The disadvantages of a WAP application are:

• Limited style and feedback elements in the UI

• Lengthy lists of menu options

• Slow load times for pages and large pictures

• Lack of screen real-estate for more dynamic menus or help screens

• Incessant blinking as page elements are refreshed

On the other hand, one of WAP’s main advantages is: It is browser based.

Hence, unlike Java ME or other similar applications which needs the application to be downloaded to the mobile device (bringing with it all the complexities, compatibility issues etc), WAP offers some advantages.

The power of the Mobile Ajax approach is: it gives the best of both worlds.

Let us explore these ideas in greater detail.

The aesthetics of the interface itself looks slicker i.e. much more ‘native’ with moving menu bars, icons etc.

soonr1.JPG

But the power of the architecture becomes clearer when you move beyond the ‘pretty face’.

Soonr2.JPG

With Ajax, the UI is presented and while the data is loading, users get a nice animated indicator. With WAP, until the server responds with all the data requested.

Often there are dozens, if not hundreds of items in the list. The application will display the main interface quickly while the folder list is being populated in the background (just as you would expect an Ajax application to work). During loading, a clear prompt with an animated progress indicator lets the user know that an operation is in process.

When the loading is complete, the information is displayed without a round-trip screen refresh to the web servers. This animated indicator will re-appear in other parts of SoonR as potentially lengthy operations are executed. By presenting the interface first, the user can start to explore and to understand what is available thus minimizing the time lost waiting for data to load.

Now, take the case of loading pictures.

Pictures in your folder can be viewed with transitions and an active menu. Entering the slide show, the selected picture is full screen and a navigation tool appears in the upper right. If the user doesn’t provide any input after a few seconds, the navigation tool will hide itself and the slide show will progress with smooth transitions between the slides. If you see a picture of particular interest, you can choose the “magnifying glass” icon in the navigation tool and get additional functionality for zooming and panning the picture. To the right, we see the picture with a high level of zoom, the zoom and pan control active.

Ajax techniques enable retrieval of the photo in the background for smooth transitions.

soonr4.JPG

There are also other features leveraging Ajax such as ‘live filters’ which also helps to dynamically reduce the size of the list to a more manageable amount.

soonr5.JPG

Similar to a resident application, the list is filtered as the user types. SoonR implements this functionality across three areas:Contacts – In Outlook organizer integration, Talk – for Skype buddies, Search – for live searches across multiple computers supporting Desktop Search applications from Google, Yahoo, X1, Windows, and Spotlight on the Mac.

The SoonR service is mature in terms of user base since it has been tried on over 500 different devices in over 140 countries. However, the Ajax element is new. The user can either get Opera 8.6 downloaded to the phone or the user can also use any other Mobile Web-browser (WAP version > 1.x). If the user is not using Opera 8.6 or above, the user will get a standard XHTML based interface.

Currently SoonR is available free for charge from www.soonr.com

Any comments welcome.

The SoonR service shows a trend which I believe is significant (and one which I have highlighted before) i.e. mobile browsers and rich mobile browsing applications (like the SoonR/Mobile Ajax case above) will be significant drivers of the new Mobile Web.

If there are any more examples/launches of mobile Ajax, I am happy to cover them. Please contact me at ajit.jaokar at futuretext.com

Thanks to Soonr for responding to my queries on this service