The Fragmented Web

One of the interesting trends in the industry is that the browser is becoming the platform for mobile applications. Why build native apps that require significantly more engineering effort then web apps which are truly a write once, run anywhere – this is what we’ve always been evangelizing at Skyfire. I’ve always pointed to the initial IE monopoly on the PC as a good thing in that it helped standardize HTML / JS etc unlike J2ME which is highly fragmented.

Well, as part of this trend, I think we are running the risk of repeating history. When J2ME was first released, a lot of the cool functionality was not available (ie access to the camera or file-system or bluetooth etc). Given the long but necessary process of the JCP to approve additional JSRs to support this added functionality, handset manufacturers jumped-the-gun and started releasing proprietary J2ME libraries to achieve certain functionality. I remember distinctly using the proprietary Motorola file system J2ME libraries and not JSR 75 which hadn’t yet been ratified or adopted. Instantly, J2ME became quite fragmented; given that I was working on a photo-upload application, we had to port to every J2ME device using different proprietary file-access libraries.

What’s interesting is that this same trend may repeat with the mobile web. As the browser becomes the app platform on the mobile device, developers are wanting to access native functionality on the phone (ie file access, the camera etc) via Javascript. Because the W3C MWI (Mobile Web Initiative) and the Bondi OMTP are still gathering support of the ecosystem and still defining standards, OEMs have begun defining proprietary Javascript to access native features of the phone. Palm is leading the charge here with WebOS and the Mojo SDK by defining custom JS to access native features of the Pre.

Going forward, I expect that most OEM browsers will take a similar approach potentially resulting in a fragmented web. As a developer, I may now have to port once again amongst different platforms.

Author: mobileraj


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