Monday, February 16, 2009

When will Mobile Browsers be the new Mobile API?

As a forward, let me talk about the Palm Pre for a few minutes. Alternatively, you can just read that article I just linked to then skip a couple paragraphs.

The Palm Pre is heralded by some as the second coming of Palm. What makes this phone stand out the most is the fact that its operating system is essentially a web-browser that talks to the hardware underneath. It's user interface is HTML/CSS/JavaScript, built on standards blah blah blah. The thrust of it means that writing a Palm Pre app is as simple (or complex) as writing a webpage. For regular end users, this is probably meaningless; all that matters is that the phone looks good and moves quickly. For developers, however, it opens up a new realm of app-developing whup-ass. By making web-apps easier to create, the Palm Pre is enabling developers to make more apps with better quality for less investment.

Pretty much every developer, and several people who have no idea what they're doing, has a good grasp of HTML/CSS/JavaScript. This means that anyone can immediately dip their feet into Palm Pre and start developing. Ease of development is what made the Web explode, and the same potential is lying in wait for the Palm Pre.

So, when will Mobile Browsers be the new Mobile API?

The Palm Pre is very much a step in that direction: you talk to the Palm Pre OS using its JavaScript libraries, and you markup the application's user interface using HTML/CSS. There's only one catch: the application has to be installed first.


Why can't I, Arron Washington, Destroyer of Worlds and Small Celestial Bodies, visit, be prompted by the phone ("Hey Mr. World Smasher, this website would like to access your phone's GPS!"), and then have all the tight integration you would come to expect with an application on any website the Web cares to offer?

Imagine the potential awesomeness of that, being able to access a phone's features via JavaScript in a regular web page. You go to Google Maps Mobile, it asks for GPS access, you grant it, and voila': a whole new subset of features are available just for you, without having to download the app and update it every time a new release comes out.

With this kind of available integration, anyone can make their website "mobile enhanced" just by calling the phone's custom JavaScript libraries. With simple (DEAD SIMPLE) JavaScript integration, something as simple as a coupon site could deliver location-aware opportunities (sales in progress, 30% off!, etc) without having to make an application for every popular phone. Just point your browser at the site, authorize and it's there, all magically delicious 'n' shiznit.

Now, some privacy nuts will tell you, "Hey man, what happens if I enable a site to use my GPS to find my location? That's an invasion of my privacy!" I'll tell those folks, don't get in a boat with cannibals.

I think with the Palm Pre we're inching just a little bit closer to that. The whole awesome website-phone integration thing, not the boat full of cannibals thing.

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