Mobile Ajax – more than a pretty face

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Note One : I would be interested in hearing and blogging about your company if you are developing Mobile Ajax applications and to brainstorm/elaborate the ideas in this blog. Please email me at ajit.jaokar at futuretext.com if you are doing something interesting

Note Two : In response to Patrick’s comment on my blog below (Update): Why focus on a specific technology like Ajax? Actually, I am not focussing on a specific technology like Ajax. I am however focussing on Open Standard Web based technologies that foster rich internet applications. To me, the Web is more than the Browser. For example, at least Widgets and RSS (in whatever incarnation it gets standardised by the W3C) are important. Thus, Ajax for me, is a way to provide RIA (Rich Internet Apps) using Open Standards but it is not the only way.

Note Three : An example of taking a programming only view can be seen at Tom Hume’s blog (I have a lot of respect for Tom’s views in general – but I am using this to illustrate my point) Tom quotes (not his own blog) : AJAX on the web is a hack, every developer knows it’s a hack. That ignores the bigger picture and looks at it from a purely coding perspective. In contrast, the blog he is quoting from by Mike Rowehl is more comprehensive but it also does not make any reference to the architecture. In general, the impression one (wrongly) gets is ‘Mobile Ajax’ is like ‘Using Ajax on a mobile browser’ and I am saying that: That’s not the case. You need a different architecture and we need to take a more strategic view. By the way, it is independent of where the application could be deployed(at Carriers or at service providers or even Corporate as I discuss below)

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Today, I spoke at the Mobile User Experience conference organised by Osney Media

This was a gathering of folk interested in Mobile UI, more used to traditional Telco WAP/SMS applications than some of the Ajax driven Rich Internet Applications becoming increasingly common on the Web

This blog is in response to a question from the audience.

I promised that I would blog about this topic because I had a meeting to attend to afterwards and had to leave immediately after my session (sorry Ben/Vicki – feel guilty coming for lunch, attending my session and then off immediately – but I hear it was a good conference! Will see more of it next time round ..)

Anyway, .. In my talk I mentioned that Mobile Ajax was more than a pretty face.

I subsequently said that many (especially people from a programming background) – take the definition of ‘Web Ajax’ literally and apply it to Mobile Ajax ‘as it is’. This means looking at the Ajax acronyms (XHTML, Javascript, XMLHttpRequest etc ) and then extrapolating them to Mobile devices

This is very limited thinking .. because it excludes something else that is missing in a mainstream Mobile Ajax application.

That ‘something’ is ‘Cloud computing’

Cloud computing is a term recently popularised by Google CEO Eric Schmidt . This rather long Wired article gives a fascinating insight into this new computing paradigm of Cloud computing summarised by

The desktop is dead. Welcome to the Internet cloud, where massive facilities across the globe will store all the data you’ll ever use. George Gilder on the dawning of the petabyte age.

By more than a ‘pretty face’: i.e. much more than the UI.

Since Soonr is the best example of the use of Mobile Ajax, I shall discuss these ideas in context of Soonr

(As I said, if you are working on something interesting in this space, please email me). I have blogged about Soonr before - so I am not going to go into details of the application itself.

Conceptually, the Soonr application does something quite simple i.e. it allows access to files on your desktop.

By virtue of using Mobile Ajax, it already benefits from a good UI, open standards (non proprietary technology) and the benefits of browser based application deployment

However, if we look at only the ‘Mobile Ajax’ component, we are missing out far more because what makes the Soonr application interesting is: it combines the UI and data management capabilities of Ajax with Cloud computing with other technologies like transcoding

Some of these technologies (like transcoding) have been around for a long time (as I recollect, even as early as 2000/2001) for example this company but these applications never worked in practise. Today, we have the entire Cloud architecture and transcoding, image panning etc are merely components in the bigger picture

For example, a word document on the desktop could be converted to a jpeg and stored in the ‘cloud’. It could then be deployed optimally on the mobile device including features like zooming/panning etc.

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The results are very powerful.

And that’s what I mean by ‘more than a pretty face’ i.e. if you look at it only from a programming perspective or from a UI perspective ignoring the architecture – then you are missing the whole point!

A secondary consequence of the above discussion is: Mobile Ajax could be well suited for corporate applications (security/permissions etc could also be managed at the middle tier)

Corporate mobile applications is where the action is at the moment and this scaleable(and relatively cost effective) architecture will benefit from the moves Google and others are making in this space (Will Google cloud displace Microsoft) .

For instance: Motorola acquired Good technology in this month . Nokia acquired Intellisync also in this month.

These moves are all going for the hallowed Blackberry market.

In that context, the corporate incarnation of Mobile Ajax becomes very interesting because the pieces are there and they are cheaper and cost effective to deploy (because browser based/Open standards etc etc)

The paradigms used here are also actually not new. If you follow the architecture of BEA Tuxedo and more earlier IBM CICS (no I am not that old! I had to ask someone about CICS – but I have worked with Tuxedo at PeopleSoft (now Oracle)) – the ideas are very similar BUT with a ‘Web’ hat on

Some of these ideas above need more elaborating(for instance the corporate role of Mobile Ajax in light of recent moves by Motorola and Nokia) but you can see what I mean by ‘Mobile Ajax is not just a pretty face’ .. If you miss out the architecture, you are missing the whole point!

Image source: cecm . The site is in Brazilian/Spanish – so not quite 100% sure what it is about – but I know a pretty face when I see one :)

I am at the Libraryhouse / Mediatech event on Nov 30 (meet the bloggers) ..

I am at the Library House/Media tech event next week as part of ‘Meet the bloggers’

This should be interesting. A unique concept and some well known names I know including Russell Buckley, Per Roman, Sam Sethi and ofcourse Doug Richard.

I am looking forward to meeting some interesting companies here. If you can attend it, well worth the day. Please comment here if you are attending and we can meet.

The Mobile Internet (voice) cat is out of the bag ..

By Dr Paddy Byers

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There’s been heaps of discussion of the 3 announcements about X-series services and the associated flatrate data plan. The consensus is that this offering heralds a new era in mobile data services; as Dean Bubley puts it, “the mobile broadband Internet cat is definitely out of the bag”.

Personally, I think there’s another angle. At least as important as the impact this will have on the future provision of data services is the impact it is likely to have on the future provision of voice.

X-series includes an “internet voice” offering based on Skype.

Why would 3 do this?

Most of the commentators found this surprising but I think it isn’t only a natural step, but a necessary step.

As soon as you introduce a flat rate data tariff, then users are going to start using it in all sorts of ways they didn’t before. If it’s priced like terrestrial broadband, they’ll expect to use it like broadband. All of a sudden your attention as a service provider is not focussed any more on maximising data services uptake, but minimising it; at least, making sure that the applications being used don’t bring your network to its knees.

This means, given flat rate, sooner or later, someone will deploy a VoIP application, and this is bad for the operator – not because it cannabilises regular voice services as most people think(uptake will be minimal) – but because of the demands it will make on the data network.

So, how do you fix this? Instead, you give those users a free internet voice service up-front; and by doing that, you get the opportunity to control and, above all, optimise that service.

BT did the very same thing for its terrestrial broadband customers in the UK.

So, 3 needed a solution that provided comparable “internet voice” services, but one that could be optimised to be effective over the cellular infrastructure. Skype was a natural entry-point given that Hutchinson Whampoa (parent of 3) has a significant stake in eBay/Skype.

The technical solution, however, isn’t straight end-to-end Skype-over-IP, but uses the regular cellular voice system to establish a call over the cellular segment to a VoIP gateway, which completes the call over the IP trunk system to the (broadband-connected) Skype user.

This means that the service can take advantage of the highly optimised system that already exists on the handset and offers a superior experience (in terms of audio latency, audio quality and power consumption) than would be possible using end-to-end VoIP implemented in application software – all without using complex solutions like IMS.

Thus, 3 can offer an internet voice service, and avoid the inefficiencies and network overheads of conventional VoIP over broadband, and can legitimately require that X-series subscribers do not attempt to use competing VoIP systems over the service.

So, when other operators are forced to replicate the X-series data service, they will find themselves in exactly the same position with regard to provision of internet voice services. Skype is less likely to be an option for these, as it would put them in the position of relying on their competitor’s technology.

So is there an alternative for other Operators?

The nearest available technical solution is Jajah.

This works in a very similar way, and can be enabled on existing phones via the installation of a native app or a java app; in fact, a competitor could even roll out a service to devices already in the field (which is something that 3, with X-series, have elected not to do, at least for now).

There has been some adverse commentary on Jajah but their mobile client seems to work well.

If I was a competing operator, I’d be looking closely at their solution right now. It will be interesting to see how this pans out in the coming months.

Again, it shows us that the Operator who has an early advantage in this area is likely to win significantly over others who may be forced to adopt a less optimal solution and that if I am right, a lot of homework went behind this announcement

UPDATE: since writing this the Talkonaut solution has

been brought to my attention and it looks to have similar capabilities

The future is bright .. The future is 3 ..

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Meg Whitman, who runs eBay, calls 3′s X-Series a “key milestone” in the development of the internet.

Until now, says Niklas Zennstrom, the chief executive and co-founder of Skype, “we thought 3G was not real broadband, but it has now arrived”.

“Moving to flat rate charging is the key to unlocking the value of the mobile internet,” says Miles Flint, the president of Sony Ericsson.

(Source for all three quotes above: BBC)

They are all referring to the announcement by Hutchison 3 announcing a fixed rate pricing and an OpenGardens strategy

Many other respected bloggers like Dean Bubley and David Cushman also concur that it is this is the single most significant digital development in recent times

I agree .. Here are my views on why that’s the case ..

Having written a book called OpenGardens and then Mobile Web 2.0 , 3’ s walled gardens represented the ultimate manifestation of all that is wrong in our industry.

For more than a year now, I have had two phones: A Vodafone Blackberry and a ‘3’ Nokia phone. The ‘3’ phone was mainly for voice(they have some of the best voice plans).

I also wanted to experience first hand, what it felt like living in a walled garden through the 3 connection.

I would often remark that within my lifetime, the ‘3’ service would not change(sarcastically adding that I had to worry about ‘3’s lifetime more than my own!)

All that changed last week with the announcement that ‘3’ is adopting a diagrammatically opposite strategy to that they have pursued so far : i.e. they are adopting OpenGardens and fixed rate pricing

Although the exact pricing is not announced, the strategic direction is more important.

It will lead to other operators announcing similar pricing and thus a virtuous cycle for the industry.

Coming so close to Christmas(and consequently handset upgrade cycles), other Operators may well have been caught on the wrong foot.

For years, the Mobile Data Industry wanted Web valuations without embracing the ethos of the Web.

And everything was done to show how ‘Mobile Data’ is different

We tried Location

We tried talking of ‘performance’.

We tried ‘User experience’.

We tried ‘content’ and also ‘relevance’

Most of all, we tried ‘walled gardens’ and we avoided fixed rate billing

Walled Gardens and the lack of Fixed price billing were the two biggest factors throttling the uptake of the Mobile Data Industry

Because ..

If the other factors above are critical .. then how do we explain SMS?

Think about it ..

SMS breaks every rule in the book.

Interface – what interface?

Performance – Is NOT guaranteed .. (you send an SMS – no guarantee that it will reach recipient and when)

And so on ..

Thus, all other factors are necessary but not sufficient to create a vibrant industry(as the experience of SMS so aptly demonstrates)

But SMS has three things going for it ..

a) It was P2P and it was based on ‘User generated content’

b) It had a revenue model through Premium SMS and also in itself (at least in Europe)

c) It had critical mass and interoperability(again mainly in Europe and Asia)

Ironically, the entire industry benefited from the uptake of SMS.

We don’t worry about ‘Operator pipes’ when it comes to SMS (because it is mostly P2P communication i.e. there is no unpipe as I said in a previous post )

That’s why I am so bullish about the ‘3’ announcement

Both OpenGardens and Fixed price billing lead to a healthier value chain(for all players including Operators)

Any operator who takes up this strategy deserves higher market valuations because they are aligning themselves to the ethos of the Web.

I expect that this will also translate into greater customer uptake, move data usage, greater ad revenues etc. All of which will create a virtuous cycle for 3 and also the industry as a whole.

Two other points are worth noting

a) Fixed rate billing will lead to a whole set of new applications such as Mobile podcasting(which are currently not commercially feasible now). This will boost innovation at the grassroots level in contrast with the ‘song and dance’ applications we see proliferating today. I have nothing against Ringtones, Wallpapers and other forms of ‘Broadcast content’ as Howard Rheingold calls it, but these applications primarily benefit the big media players, Operators and some large aggregators. They belittle the true potential of the Mobile Data industry and they provide no incentive for the grassroots developers. All that changes when fixed rate pricing and OpenGardens become the norm.

b) While not immediately apparent, there are two revenue models for ‘3’ – first is the data charges but also there is advertising as the BBC says : The proposed flat rate may pay some of 3′s networks costs, but the real business model is advertising.

That’s where Mobile Web 2.0 comes in .. i.e. ad supported business models on Mobile devices will mirror the uptake of Web 2.0 applications.

The importance of the resurgent advertising model in laying the foundations of Web 2.0(and by extension Mobile Web 2.0 ) is shown by Jason Calacanis in a fascinating blog The real story of Web 2.0: Advertising 2.0 where he says

The real story of Web 2.0 has little to do with the bells and whistles and everything to do with the stunning growth of online advertising.

And also

How far will this trend line go? Think 20 more years of similar growth.

Will it(rate of growth) get steeper? Absolutely.

To conclude ..

As a blogger with a mission of fostering grassroots innovation, healthier value chains and greater uptake of the Mobile data industry: I say ..

The future is bright .. the future is 3.

Case studies: Oxford university course on Web 2.0 and User generated content ..

Hello all

As I mentioned before, I will be conducting my first ever course at Oxford university next month on Web 2.0 and user generated content

If you can suggest/add anything which I could include in the course, happy to consider it(even from your own company/case study etc)

Also, as before, if you can let anyone else know who may be interested in attending, thats great as well(Its not free but heavily subsidised by the Uni)

kind rgds

Ajit

Milton Friedman, 94, Free-Market Theorist

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Milton Friedman, 94, Free-Market Theorist died last week.

A great mind who championed the cause of free markets and free economies!

See this NY times article about his achievements.

Thanks to my good friend and fellow Libertarian Judy Breck for pointing this out to me

3 flat rate: More from the BBC ..

from the BBC …

Meg Whitman, who runs eBay, calls 3′s X-Series a “key milestone” in the development of the internet.

A sentiment widely echoed in blogosphere as well!

At long last the web has become truly mobile, promises 3G network operator 3 with its new X-Series of mobile phones. But is this yet more hype or a consumer dream come true?

Boring meeting, endless wait for the train? Whip out your mobile phone and watch a film that’s coming in on your Freeview or Sky box at home – or even one that’s on the hard drive of your personal video recorder.

Want to listen to good music, or show off pictures of your last holiday? Take your mobile and download a podcast or check out everything that’s on your computer at home.

Never miss a beat on eBay auctions any more – just bid on the move. Oh, and don’t bother with pub quizzes. The guys at the next table may use an X-Series telephone to access Google or Yahoo at broadband speed.

The holy grail?

Has mobile operator 3, owned by Hutchison Whampoa, discovered the holy grail of the mobile phone industry?

Until now the billions of pounds and euros spent on expensive 3G licences – which allow mobile phone companies to offer services at broadband speed – have failed to pay off.

Never miss a bid on eBay

Most people are still perfectly happy to use their phones for just a few things: making calls, for example, or sending text messages.

Neither music downloads nor camera phones made the 3G cash registers ring.

But if 3 is right, the search for a killer application was pointless.

Instead, the secret of 3G could be old-fashioned marketing – and a pricing plan that’s nicked from the fixed-line internet.

It’s not new – but it’s packaged

For its X-Series of mobile phones, 3 has lined up impressive partners: Google, Yahoo, Microsoft, Nokia, Sony Ericsson, Orb, Sling Media, plus Skype and its parent company eBay.

X-Series services

Skype internet telephony

Microsoft Messenger

Ebay

Unlimited internet access

Google search

Yahoo Go services

Sling television access

Orb access to home PC

Podcast downloads on the move

The underlying technologies are not particularly new or cutting edge.

The special thing about 3′s offering is that it provides all these applications bundled, user-friendly and ready to go – even Sling’s access to your home TV set and Orb’s connection to your own PC.

No hotspot, no laptop, no data card required.

Until now only people with smartphones and a lot of know-how could modify their devices to make them do what an X-Series phone does out of the box.

Little wonder that Nokia’s executive vice president Kai Oistamo does not use the word “phone” once. Nokia’s N73 X-Series is a “multimedia computer”.

The killer

But here comes the real killer: customers will pay a flat rate for all their data transfers.

Watch television without paying for a subscription twice

No counting of clicks or minutes or messages or megabytes of downloads (although “fair use” limits will apply, just as with many fixed-line broadband deals).

All you have to pay is a single monthly charge on top of your 3 subscription.

“Moving to flat rate charging is the key to unlocking the value of the mobile internet,” says Miles Flint, the president of Sony Ericsson.

Frank Sixt, group finance director at Hutchison Whampoa, describes it simply as “the end of rationing”.

Mr Sixt is cagey about the exact cost. All will be revealed at the beginning of December, although he promises that the service will cost less than fixed-line broadband.

It is this new charging model that will strike fear into the heart’s of 3′s competitors.

If 3′s price hits the sweet spot – say at just a tad over £10 a month – which customer with a hunger for mobile excitement would keep paying by the megabyte?

A mobile revolution

Now you can Skype on your mobile phone

The economics of the mobile web are simple. “About one billion people use PCs to access the internet,” says Yahoo boss Terry Semel. “But three billion people use mobile devices.”

Until now, says Niklas Zennstrom, the chief executive and co-founder of Skype, “we thought 3G was not real broadband, but it has now arrived”.

Bringing the two together is a mass market opportunity.

Meg Whitman, who runs eBay, calls 3′s X-Series a “key milestone” in the development of the internet.

No wonder then that 3′s mobile web revolution persuades the likes of Google, Microsoft, and Yahoo to happily share a stage.

Who pays?

The proposed flat rate may pay some of 3′s networks costs, but the real business model is advertising.

Google, Yahoo and Microsoft have all become experts in online advertising. Now they hope to transfer these skills to the mobile space.

Yahoo, for example, offers its content for free, but shares with 3 the revenue from display and search-driven advertising on X-Series phones, explains Geraldine Wilson, who is in charge of Yahoo’s mobile offering in Europe.

The drawbacks

With its offering 3 has stolen a march on all its mobile competitors.

When I tried it the service worked without a hitch, even though all around me dozens of journalists were also busily trying out new X-series phones.

However 3 – with 14 million subscribers globally – is present in only a few countries. Any move into new markets would be prohibitively expensive.

And there are other drawbacks.

The X-Series has launched with just two phones, Nokia’s N73, and Sony Ericsson’s W950.

Both are great, but not perfect – although more models are promised for 2007.

But using them reminded me how slow 3G actually is – ISDN speed at best.

What would have been blistering speed five years ago has a snail’s pace feeling in todays’ gigabyte world.

Soon 3 will upgrade its network to the faster HSDPA standard. But to use it, customers have to upgrade to even newer phones.

And there is another worry that must be keeping network operators up at night: Are there really enough people out there, who want to fill their “dead time” with mobile access to the web?

source: BBC

3 announces flat rate/Open Gardens strategy!!!

Is this the biggest change in the industry yet!!

See the full press release HERE

I have long been cynical of three .. but this is a major development and I will blog/watch it with interest.

If anyone from three is interested to share more info, happy to speak to them at ajit.jaokar at futuretext.com

Also, read Dean Bubley’s analysis on this topic (he attended the event)

and I also agree with David Cushman’s post that this is the single most significant digital development in recent times

Although we dont know the pricing – it would be stupid to price it too high and also it will trigger a race with the other operators.

I spent the whole day at W3C mobile initiative in Paris and the biggest question was ‘walled gardens and tariff’s – now we have the makings of a new day in our industry ..

hottxt: A potentially viral messaging service ..

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In the UK, Hottxt is making some headlines for two reasons. They were among the first (if not the first) to use SMS over GPRS (thereby making SMS messages cheaper).

Secondly, it’s co-founder/chairman is Doug Richard (of the BBC2 Dragon’s den fame)

However, my interest in Hottxt comes from another – not so well known – facet of their service

Hottxt uses the same tag to message people from the Web as it does from the phone.

This seemingly simple feature has the rudimentary beginnings of the I am not a number, I am a tag idea which we have advocated in Mobile Web 2.0

So, I am glad to see the hottxt service ‘abstract’ the number because the possibilities of doing so are interesting

And as I write this, there is an announcement from Hottxt that the service will be completely free.

The combined effect of free SMS, a well funded company with experienced management, number abstraction and other community services like group texting could make this an interesting service

When I met Doug and David as introduced by their PR company (Lucy Watson of Ballard Associates), I found their approach very measured i.e. Create the service, understand the user base first, introduce new features slowly and grow from there.

Hottxt is certainly doing the right things in providing the tools – but the ‘crossing the chasm’ will come if it can master ‘community’ i.e. will users use these tools to create a viral effect/community?

If they do, this could be very big

Definitely one to watch!

I am at the W3C Mobile Web Seminar in Paris ..

Hello all

I am at the W3C Mobile Web Seminar today

Not speaking but invited as an external expert for general comments etc on standards/indstry directon(My first W3C event – so not really sure how it works!)

If you are here, lets catch up

kind rgds

Ajit