If you’ve ever seen one of those NASA simulations of galaxies colliding, you’ll know it’s a messy business. Symmetric spirals, serenely evolving and progressing through the universe on their own, suddenly encounter each other. The result is a violent conflagration. Plumes of previously well-ordered stars go shooting off into space, only to be drawn back in and shot out again in another directions; seeming child galaxies form, only to be absorbed again in more churning cataclysms. The time-scales over which this occurs are, of course, astronomical. At human-scale time, all we can ever perceive is a moment, frozen in time.
We are in the middle of such an event right now in both the Web and mobile industries. Our galaxies are colliding; they have been colliding for a number of years; and they will continue to collide for years to come. The result will be a new landscape, a new ecosystem, a new industry. What that industry will look like is not clear, but we can guess at its shape. At this year’s mobile 2.0 conference in San Francisco, we are once again going to take a stab at doing just this.
In 2006, before our first Mobile 2.0 event, when I first sensed the colliding of these two galaxies, I wrote a post about what I thought that future might look like. I stole a page out of the book of Tim O’Reilly in trying to define Mobile 2.0, attempting to use the same approach he used for the (then newly-minted) term “Web 2.0” to get a hold of what I saw happening in the convergence between the Internet/Web and Mobile worlds. One of the key ideas in this post was that the future of mobile was both the Web and connected applications. That view of the world was driven by what I saw happening with the fledgling app ecosystem on (then primarily Nokia / Symbian) connected smartphones and the fledgling mobile Web ecosystem, especially what was going on with webkit-based mobile browsers (also pioneered by Nokia). In my 2006 view of the future, the Web and connected applications would co-exist and (importantly) the Web would be the vector whereby these applications would be discovered, downloaded and installed.
Well, I almost got it right. What I didn’t anticipate was the rise of paid app stores. The bundled app stores (which are apps themselves) has created a gravity around downloadable, installable apps. So – while it has now become possible, on modern smartphones, to find and download apps from a universe of choices, that universe is actually constrained in some very important ways. What you can discover is constrained. How you can pay is constrained. And importantly for the developer, the tools they can use, types of applications they can build, and ways they can make money are, to a greater or lesser degree, constrained.
HTML5 is being touted by many as alternative approach to building apps – apps that would live in the browser in the same away that browser-based apps have started to appear on the PC Web. In some ways, this is true. Some in the mobile industry have jumped on HTML5 as a panacea, finally delivering “write once, run anywhere” apps. It also is being seen as a way around the vertically controlled app ecosystem promoted and maintained by the platform providers.
(Watch out for part 2 of my thoughts on the Web, Mobile and HTML5 soon.)