Nokia s60 Widgets support: Mobile Widgets and the fulfilment of the Mobile Ajax dream

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I am getting back to my blogging now and the last two weeks have been fantastic in terms of knowledge acquisition with both the Web 2.0 expo and the IMS world forum in Monaco . For me, the big takeaway from the Web 2.0 expo was Nokia’s announcement for Mobile Widgets in the S60 platform – so much so that I changed my presentation just on the last day at Web20expo to incorporate that announcement

In a nutshell, Mobile Widgets fulfil the vision of Mobile Ajax in unifying the Web and the Mobile Web – and by linking it to specific devices, this announcement completes that cycle full circle.

In the now widely critiqued article on the Web, Mobile web 2.0: AJAX for mobile devices – why mobile AJAX will replace both J2ME and XHTML as the preferred platform for mobile applications development – Part two I said

Ajax, mobile web 2.0 and widgets reduce time to market, encourage innovation and enable a larger target market. By potentially having the ability to develop for the web and the mobile browser at the same time, widgets offer a better value proposition to developers. If widgets can ‘call’ other widgets – powerful applications could be developed from simple components. The biggest factor in favour of Ajax today is the support of small application developers. Developers who stand to make money from widgets. Widgets which could potentially have a large target audience.

I first started tracking Widgets in a blog last year called the dawn of the Widget Widget Web , which said

a) The World Wide Web as we know it, is exploding. From its fragments emerges a new ‘container based’ Web based on Widgets.

b) Modularization of software and applications is not new. The idea is simply ‘moving up the software stack’.

c) The simultaneous evolution of widgets, Ajax and other technologies is no accident since they are all feeding off each other to create a powerful new ecosystem.

But don’t take my word for it: Newsweek called 2007 the year of the Widget and Om Malik and Niall Keneddy have been running an entire conference on Widgets

If you see my original article about Mobile ajax, my real interest lies in the power of Widgets to bridge the Web and the Mobile Web.

The Nokia announcement says: Widgets open up the mobile market for Web designers

Nokia introduces widget support for S60 and takes a significant step in realizing its vision of transforming mobility and the Internet with rich Web 2.0 experiences. S60 will be the first mobile software platform that enables the creation of widgets using familiar standards-based Web technologies. Available to all S60 licensees, widget support enhances the Internet experience on a mobile by bringing a personal Web experience to a personal device.

Why is this significant?

Because it is a logical culmination of a series of rapidly evolving trends .. specifically the realisation of the Mobile Ajax vision in the form of Mobile Widgets(in addition of course, to it’s potential as a rich browsing mechanism where it has become practically ubiquitous in next generation browsers)

Here is the chain of thought .. let’s start with money .. rather the lack of it for developers ..

One of my very first posts have been about Jerry Maguire – with his trademark phrase – Show me the money. Making money on the Mobile data industry has remained an elusive proposition for many developers.

To make money on the Mobile Data Industry, we have to realise that the Mobile Data Industry is predominantly a consumer play .. and we have to work at getting critical mass. Considering the idea of a primal soup – A Darwinian term to define an ecosystem where life may emerge vs. the Killer app – (i.e. we cannot predict a specific killer application – it is better to create an ecosystem from which a killer application may arise) .. then Long Tail applications become important

The Web already has a vast repository of information and services from which Mobile long tail applications could emerge. Thus, we need a bridge between the Web and the Mobile Web – both technologically(unified development paradigms) and commercially(unified distribution models) to get a potential critical mass coupled with Long Tail applications.

To make the Web richer on Mobile devices, we need the Rich Internet Applications (RIA) paradigm to flow on to the Mobile Web. That really gives us two options: Ajax(Mobile Ajax) and Adobe Flex(Flash Lite) . Finally, when you narrow that down to Open standards(which I also believe in) – you end up only with Mobile Ajax.

In application terms, that means rich browsers(and Mobile Ajax is becoming practically ubiquitous in next generation browsers) but more specifically Mobile Widgets because Mobile Widgets are enabled by Mobile Ajax

Which brings us to why this announcement is significant.

We have a lot of content on the Web – all easily RSS enabled. Using the same standards as the Web(Javascript, CSS etc), for the first time we can bring it to specific Nokia devices in a Rich interactive environment (Widgets). i.e. when we can target specific devices, the circle is complete end to end..

The applications(WIdgets) so created can be distributed over the Web. They are simple often monolithic applications that are suited for the Mobile device.

I know that the most common argument against Widgets is: they are too simple.

But .. so what?

Why try to create complex applications which are perhaps not suited for the Mobile device? Why re-invent the wheel when we can first bring existing content type applications to the Mobile Web? Specifically, many applications developers want access to device APIs, which are currently missing(but coming soon) with most browser based development(including Widgets)

I have been saying this for a year now, and even at the IMS 2.0 conference, Mobilkom Austria head of services/innovation Reinhard Wilfinger reiterated the same theme about widgets ..

To summarise my widgets vision/dream: Mobile Ajax = Mobile Widgets = Long tail mobile apps = Happy customers and happy developers

Ahh .. but don’t we already have WAP, XHTML etc etc? .. we don’t need all this new stuff ..

Yes, we always had browsing mechanisms – but not rich enough for customers to be interested in(and consequently pay for).

Look what happened to OpenWave .. when it missed a wave ..

As Andreas Constantinou says in a seminal article called Bye Bye browser

The announcements of the Openwave Mobile Widget, MediaCast and the Openwave Personalization and Profiling System are characteristic of the company’s turn towards content delivery services. However, this turn came too late; with OpenWave’s NASDAQ-listed stocks having fallen 50% in the past 12 months, the CEO resigned in late March and the company announced it was putting itself up for sale. For a publically traded company employing 1,300 people across 26 countries, this a major shake-up. Even more so, if you consider that Openwave’s decline is a far cry from the year 2000 when the company co-founded the WAP Forum and was instrumental in drafting the WAP specification which spawned the mobile browser business.

There is also a shift in the power base to devices(and customers) .. the topic of a separate blog .. But more from the same link (Bye Bye Browser)

While Openwave was banking on the purchasing power of mobile operators to demand inclusion of its browser by manufacturers, it chose to sideline its real customers, the handset manufacturers at its own peril. Handset OEMs who previously were disinfatuated with Openwave due to the lack of flexibility in Openwave’s bundled browser and messaging components were disincentivised to upgrade to Openwave’s v7 browser framework (codenamed Mercury), the basis for MIDAS.

So, the winner in all this is Web standards, Rich mobile applications etc.

The widgets themselves are simple .. deceptively so .. The Nokia announcement has a weather widget, a Reuter’s widget, a Spanish to English translation widget, a chat widget, a photo uploading application, an eBay/bargains type application and so on.

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All simple but useful applications – and notice that none of these require access to the device APIs.

And just to offer more proof of the power of Widgets, I saw this post on lijit.com – which shows how powerful widgets have become – effectively saying that the Google analytics widget is now embedded in 40% of all blogs

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Wired article snack attack also takes up the same theme.

So, watch this space for sure ..

By the way, if you are wondering about the picture of the blue turtle .. Thinking about ‘dreams of Mobile Ajax’ reminded me of one of my favourite albums The dream of the blue turtles by Sting. In a ‘pop idol’ world, there are very few artists who still write great lyrics – Sting being one of them and you can see the simplicity and the humanity of this album’s lyrics HERE especially in songs such as If You Love Somebody Set Them Free , Russians and Children’s Crusade

Blue turtle Image source: skeletonpix

Comments

  1. Rocco says:

    great summary ajit, i couldn’t agree more on 2 points: one, the fact that widgets finally can bridge the gap between the web and mobile devices and second that ajax will be essential in powering those widgets.
    now with other mobile browser vendors (almost all) also integrating widget support for their mobile browsers, for developers it would be just great if all of them could sit together with the guys from w3c and create/stick to a common standard – but that’s wishful thinking…