Kelly posted a fantastic summary of a discussion we had up at the loft last week about mobile advertising. Longer term I’m particularly interested in the web app vs downloaded application questions, and the question of the mobile web as a distinct area from the fixed web.
The questions of web app vs downloaded application might actually get somewhat obscured by the likes of Android and Ovi. A focus on services instead of applications tends to blur the line somewhat. Jaiku is an excellent example there. They have an S60 app, you can use it via IM or SMS, there’s a widget for Widsets, and a mobile friendly web version. Still, I think there will be some consolidation over time where some preferred way exists for covering the maximum number of handsets without having to develop a half dozen different versions.
Personally I think that’s going to be based on the mobile web instead of downloaded applications. However that means that the mobile browser really needs to mature a lot to make it as viable of a delivery platform as desktop browsers are now. And I don’t necessarily mean mobile AJAX here, I mean that development for mobile browsers needs to be a deterministic process. It can’t be this crapshoot with standards support and capabilities all over the map.
Which leads in to the issue of will the mobile web continue to exist as devices get better. There are at least two different issues in there: there’s the technical issue of coming up with markup that will render on a mobile device and an application level issue of delivering information tailored for a more limited device. There’s a lot of attention going into the technical side of the equation. Stuff like transcoders meant to strip out extraneous data, clean up tagging, and format the info in a more usable layout for a mobile device. And there are W3C efforts to define markups that can be supported across a wide range of devices.
However, even if the markup ends up being the same, assume that my phone was able to render any web page just well as my desktop browser could, does that mean the “death of the mobile web”? Would it still make sense to do two versions of the web application based on the user’s modality? Not based on if they’re accessing from their phone or their desktop, but based on if they’re using from their phone will seated on the train or using on their phone while wandering around a strange city looking for their friends.
I think the distinction will always remain, but there are definitely questions about where that “other version” comes from. Does it get produced entirely by the application provider? Or do they provide some extra tags (like the fb:mobile tag in FBML) that give hinting to other services which still provide a degree of adaptation? Right now the only realistic method is to make the two versions yourself. The problem of adapting a web user interface just isn’t well understood enough for someone to be able to factor out common parts and expose a meaningful set of hooks and capabilities. That’s still up for grabs really. There’s still a lot of blank space and potential in the market. Plenty of room for great ideas and plenty of unpopulated areas.