A hopeless mess … has it really only been less than three years since mobile devices seemed like a hopeless, stale, torpid kill-zone?
Think back to the spring of 2007, when the best choices were either aging PalmOS, messaging-centric Blackberries, and the occasional Windows Mobile devices, with absolutely none able to render a decent web page.
On the off-chance that you could get a readable webpage, chances are the device itself would – particularly the PalmOS devices – would crash at really handy moments.
The whole situation was frustrating enough that there were many who wondered whether we’d ever get to a stage where any functions of these so-called “smart phones” were reliable enough to count upon … without even hoping for them to be capable enough to actually want to use.
Fortunately, those fears were soon to pass.
Mobile Web (most) Real Now
Where do we stand today?
A few months after the original iPhone announcement – say in the misty, far off ages of late ’07 – the leading edge of the change was already most readily apparent. With only a handful of devices on the market, it was already very clear that – in many ways – mobile web was just now becoming real.
A critical mass of factors – display, user interface, network speed, ubiquitous access, and extensibility, among others – made the iPhone fundamentally different than what had come before. Enough different that the web traffic was nearly always way disproportionate to device population.
In other words, the iPhone was the first mobile device on which “the web didn’t suck”.
Within two years the rapid emergence of the whole Android ecosystem (including the very interesting Nexus One) along with a number of other interesting competitors (if only Palm can get critical mass for WebOS), along with newly-resurgent RIM and the huge (but seemingly wandering – see update below) Nokia have utterly transformed the mobile device markets.
Mobile Without Web
But wait, there’s more … in perhaps a trend that not too many people outside of the true-believers anticipated, ebook readers have actually caught on. Between various Kindles, the Nook, and even a few new entries from Sony there is now real energy in this market.
Yes publishers have been scratching their heads and trying to figure out how best to participate, but not nearly so many people are laughing now. Ebooks are not only real, but the outlines of a path to mainstream acceptance are now beginning to be visible.
Mobile Web x 10?
Earlier today Apple released the iPad, and as is often their habit have probably pushed the mobile web into warp 9, maybe 10.
True enough that tablets of one kind or another have been out for some time – I owned an HP 1100 five or six years ago, for example, and this is not even Apple’s first attempt (think Newton) – but for one reason or another tablets have never really caught on. Whether the iPad offers enough to change that or not remains to be seen – my betting is yes – but I’ll mostly leave that debate to others for now.
Yet there are many betting that this device really portends a new class of devices. For example, MC Siegler posted today on TechCrunch:
[the iPad is] the best way to browse the web in a style that is likely your preferred method: by touching it
Siegler is making the case that for anyone who already owns an iPhone or iPod Touch (now more than 75 million and counting) this is rapidly becoming a very familiar, even the preferred means for using the web. Of course, the same can be said for the owners of all of the Android, WebOS, and other advanced handsets.
Siegler made these comments after some time using one, and in doing so reflected similar comments from others who also spent time driving one today.
His bottom line: this is the first of a class of devices that are entirely optimized for content consumption (which also implies a degree of interaction, of course).
The Impact on Cloud Computing
In many ways the rise of the iPhone / Android class of handheld computers has been a real driver for the growth of cloud computing. By enabling interaction with every manner of web-delivered services at nearly any time, these devices contribute mightily to the very meaning of “web-scale”.
And has been seen in case after case after case, the only real systems architectures that have much of a hope of dealing with web-scale are, in fact, cloud computing architectures.
So in that context the introduction of the iPad most likely portends another front in the inexorable growth of web-scale itself, and in doing so will only accelerate the need for adoption of true cloud-computing architectures throughout.
Update: A few hours after I wrote this post Nokia announced strong Q4 results, growing their marketshare to 40% worldwide for smartphones. This result “marked an end to a steady stream of market share losses for Nokia’s smartphones”. So perhaps Nokia will remain a strong factor going forward – if so, great! The real point is that – whoever the leaders are – the new standard for mobile devices is to fully utilize and participate in the web, period. That is what has profound implications for cloud computing.
It is too early to tell the precise nature of this increased demand due to these tablet-class devices, but that it will occur is nearly inevitable. Some time it would be interesting to examine demand metrics as a function of the power of the handheld devices – my guess is that would be very revealing indeed.