Wednesday, June 08, 2005

Where's the mobile Web?

Why are there no compelling mobile web apps? I don't mean applications that run on your phone or some other device when you are disconnected. I'm talking about honest-to-goodness I-need-some-connectivity-to-run apps.

Phone processing power, screen size, screen quality, coverage, and data rate have improved dramatically over the last 4-5 years. We've been talking about multi-headed applications for at least that long, but we are lucky if apps have both a rich client interface and a web interface. Phone interfaces are gimmicky or non-existent.

I think part of the problem has been an obsession about operating in disconnected mode, which to me is a relic of rich client thinking. Sure, it would be nice. But is it really necessary? Let's step back to 1998, when dial-up was king. You'd lose your connection any number of times during a session due to various flakiness and limitations, and you'd keep plugging away. Annoying, yes, but not annoying enough to hinder the explosive growth of the Web.

But we don't have to go back in time to find an analogous situation. WiFi exploded even though a large percentage of users can't provide whole house coverage with one WAP. People simply deal with it, because the benefits of mobility greatly outweigh a few dark corners.

Mobile browsers used to be lame, but now are much better. Additional work is still required, but tools exist to lighten the load.

So is it merely inertia that's holding developers back? What am I missing here?

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