Since the Chrome OS announcement the other day I’ve been thinking more about what a world with rich enough web APIs to support all general purpose applications might look like. I’m not sure that it’ll happen, but it sounds like Google is putting their weight behind it and they’ve been successful in the past at moving our industry in new directions (remember the world before GMail and Google Maps?).
A richer set of standard web APIs might form the basis for a cross-manufacturer mobile platform. The Palm WebOS stack already kind of looks like Chrome OS (though with local HTML+JS apps rather than remote ones) and the original iPhone application model was exactly what Chrome OS proposes. The limitations that forced Apple to create a native developer platform are exactly the ones that Chrome OS plans to address.
Of course Google’s own mobile platform is decidedly non-web and Apple’s much larger volume of applications discourage it from supporting standard APIs. The handset manufacturers, OS developers and carriers are all making a ton of money selling applications in a model that’s reminiscent of pre-web software models. The only real winners from a move to a web model for mobile applications would be the users.
My wife and I just finished a week long camel trek in eastern Morocco with Berber nomads. While our hosts had no formal education, no running water, no grid electricity (just a little solar), no flush toilets and no floors in their homes, no land lines and no computers they did have mobile phones. Pretty much everyone seemed to have a low end (Series 40) Nokia. Their lack of education didn’t stop them texting madly. Perhaps more interesting was that they used their mobiles both as music players and for playing what we’d call viral videos. I’m not sure how they get content on their phones, probably an hour away at the super cheap internet cafes of Rissani. At Danger one of the key ideas that differentiated us from the Blackberry and later iPhone was that we were a standalone appliance, not a peripheral for your existing computer. We’ve seen some failure in this model recently but I think it’s ultimately a worthy goal.
Chris Messina posted today about the problems with current OpenID work-flows for mobile users. In spite of a long list of chores I was intending to complete today I had a bit of an experiment with an approach to solving this.
The main problem I wanted to solve was to allow a user to prove their identity without having to enter a password. Most mobile devices lack physical alphanumeric keyboards, and without that it’s very hard to fill out password fields.
There were two interesting announcements today. First the Sidekick ID which had been previously leaked was formally announced and reviews have started to show up. Secondly Apple announced that the OS X Leopard will ship three months late – more than two years after the previous release of OS X. This slip is being seen as evidence that Apple is having trouble building as many products at once as it wants to.
In the four years I was at Danger we were building exactly one product at a time. We failed to separate the development of the hardware, the OS and the applications. Separating the client and server schedules was a slow and painful process. In the two years since I’ve left things seem to have improved. The fact that they’re able to ship two products (even if they are quite similar) is really exciting. That Danger is succeeding where Apple, with their 30 years of experience, is beginning to stumble is cause for congratulations.