Mobile Web 2.0 “Dramatic Developments” from AT&T Really not all that dramatic….

Well, I’m sad to report that the folks over/up/down at AT&T wireless appear to not quite have their act together when it comes to what is the ‘next big thing’ in wireless. I had really been hoping/anticipating that the webinar they hosted on June 30 entitled "Dramatic Developments in Mobile Web Technology" was going to provide something concrete and actionable for you (and I), alas, that was not to be the case. The presentation was really a mish mash, hodgepodge of acronym defining and forward looking snapshots into what may be coming in to AT&T devices (and network) in the undefined near future.

They did make available the presentation via a .wmv file if you feel like sitting through it. Not sure what codec they used, but it wasn’t one that my Mac liked. They also published a ‘white paper’ which is for all intents and purposes a reformatting of the slides presented by the various presenters.

A large portion of the presentation was devoted to defining what is Mobile Web 2.0, and what it means in relation to Web 2.0 and to mobile developers. This would be a useful overview if you had been living in an isolated cave for the past 5 years, or perhaps have a boss who has been. While the overview was somewhat useful for setting context, it also contained information that was either misleading or just factually wrong. At one point a table was presented comparing features of ‘leading mobile browsers’ (you can find it on page 16 of the white paper), which suggests that Flash is supported by all browsers except for Blackberry and iPhone. Um, well, yeah, Flash Lite maybe, and by supported if you mean that swf content can be downloaded or played in the context of a viewer, but not integrated into web content, as is often the case. The table also misses in the ‘Rendering Engine’ column failing to note that the Symbian S60 browser is indeed also WebKit based. Maybe I’m getting nitpicky here. Maybe I’m just cranky as I’m running out of coffee, but AT&T generally does a pretty good job of providing device details so clearly they can do better than this.

The new bits in the discussion here were the portions of the presentation on BONDI from the OMTP and on the OneAPI from GSMA. With regards to BONDI, here we have another technology standard that so far looks good on paper, but we’re still waiting to see how it looks once it’s implemented. The 1.0 specification was recently released and there is an alpha reference implementation currently available for WindowsMobile. In theory this is going to be a good thing, but in practice it’s still hard to say how it will sort out/measure up/confuse or compete with the other platforms I’ve talked about previously including WRT from Nokia, the Netfront widgets and the Y! Widget engine. It’s something that currently resides firmly in the ‘monitor’ state of existence.

The OneAPI from the GSMA does have some very interesting promise in terms of dramatically simplifying the way that you, the developer, interacts with network operators. What appears to be at play here is a framework that allows for the folks who currently run the interconnects (such as mBlox or End2End) to provide more robust services going beyond just SMS and MMS but including location and presence, and perhaps most importantly, billing. I was a bit slow on the uptake on figuring out exactly the who and why of the presenters on this segment were, since the name Aepona didn’t ring any bells for me. I found it interesting that it was a third party promoting this, rather than the GSMA directly or any of the operators. In fact, the specs are hosted at (a page which carries GSMA branding and contact info). A tad bit of digging shows that Apeona is really the latest incarnation of Apion, which was one of the infrastructure providers consumed by in the late 90’s. In fact their current management team is a virtual who’s who of Openwave back from the glory days (not meant in any sort of pejorative sense). They certainly have the technical knowledge and industry experience to make this sort of thing work, so let’s hope for success as it would be a good thing for all of us!

There was also a brief segment on managing security in the world of Mobile Web 2.0. Actually, it was more of a cautionary note than anything else, boiling down to reminders to not forget about managing security. Rightly so they point out that in its previous incarnations there has not been the need to worry so much about web exploits and hijacking in the mobile space as the capabilities have just not been present in the browsers. However, now that we’re marching forward with robust scripting engines and platforms that are finding ways to expose sensitive data, security issues need to come to the forefront. The big three Web based exploits: Cross Site Scripting, Cross Site Request Forgery, and Click Jacking are all issues that need to be mitigated against in the mobile context. That, and just like with a laptop, it is important to have security for sensitive data that may be exposed on a misplaced (or stolen) device.

So what? Really, what was AT&T getting at here? As far as I can tell, it seems that they simply want to stay in the consciousness of the developers, and remind them that they exist beyond just being the purveyor of the iPhone here in the states. They are trying to send the message that there are interesting and relevant things going on in the network and across their handset range. Ok, fine and good, but when it comes to where the rubber meets the road, they had the following advice:

  • Determine when to use a web app and when to use a widget based app
  • Be aware that advanced features may not work on all devices
  • Test applications on a variety of devices and network conditions
  • Take advantage of ‘broadly supported standardized initiatives’ as devices become available (emphasis mine)
  • Profile devices to determine their capabilities
  • Implement device management and security policies

So, the folks at AT&T were really not going out on a limb here. They want you, the developer, to be aware of what’s going on in the industry, but as we’ve heard somewhere before, don’t rush out an expect it to just work. Ah yes, the joys of mobile development.

Well folks, that’s all for now. Something tells me you’re not going to be surprised by any of this. If you’ve started poking around at BONDI, I’d love to hear your impressions, or thoughts about anything else I’ve got to say. Till next time. Enjoy!

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