Stop calling the specially formatted mobile websites on the iPhone applications!

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Blogging about the iPhone is a popular thing to do, for many reasons. You have the people who think the iPhone is a gift from god without realizing it is probably the most locked device to ever be released on to the market, you have the people who think that the mobile websites built on jawsome Web 2.0 scripting languages are cool and then you have the people who know about the first two groups and try to build something that will get them written about on TechCrunch and increase their Adsense revenue at the end of the month.

Yes the iPhone is beautiful, yes the iPhone has a large screen which makes these “applications” work well, but to call the iPhone a revolutionary product because of that is simply false.

The iPhone’s web browser is built on the WebKit browser engine, something that every Nokia owner running the the last few versions of the S60 operating system have had for some time now. Nokia published a press release on April 16 of this year announcing their new “widgets” platform for S60 that uses their WebKit based browser implementation. I put the word widgets in quotation marks because at first I thought what you’re probably thinking right now, who the hell cares about widgets, right?

Widgets is Nokia’s way of saying that they are letting web developers build applications in scripting and mark up languages (AJAX, HTML) that they already know, instead of having to learn how to program in Symbian.c++ which can cause your brain to explode. Nokia’s widgets = iPhone’s applications. Did I mention that unlike the iPhone they can run offline?

There are two podcasts that developers and enthusiastic users alike should listen to, the first one being an interview with Ganesh Sivaraman about what S60 Widgets can do and what the future holds in terms of added functionality such as interfacing with the data and hardware in your mobile phone. The second is a panel discussion with Niklas von Knorring and Petrus Lundqvist that delves deeper into what widgets will mean for S60 and what it will mean for the future of software development.

Now I know what my readers are going to say: “Stefan is just defending Nokia.” Not at all.

When you think about how fragmented the J2ME space is, that almost half of a mobile Java developers’ resources are spent on making sure their program works on various handsets and how such a small amount of devices sold every year run S60, you feel bad for them. Webkit isn’t the silver bullet, but it is powerful enough that it will bring about new services faster and easier than ever before.

Case in point: Motorola said that they expect 60% of the devices they will sell in 2009 to be running Linux. Why is that important? Motorola’s MotoMAGX Linux platform is based on three things: an open source Linux operating system, kick ass J2ME support and something they call “WebUI.”

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WebUI is a horrible marketing term, just like “Widgets,” but it is essentially the same thing I’ve been talking about for this entire article. It is a way for developers to bring applications and services to market faster thanks to simple HTML, CSS and AJAX and most importantly: WebKit.

Apple didn’t pioneer anything except the user interface of the iPhone and even I have to tip my hat to them for giving the industry a swift kick in the ass, but that is where I stop throwing down compliments and my list of complaints begins.

[Source for MotoMAGX platform architecture diagram]

  • JonnyBruha

    S60 and iPhone users are more alike than they think, and this is one of those strong points that bring that out.

    Web apps (or “weblets” as I call them) are a great idea on a phone like the iPhone because of it’s entire build and orientation towards using the web browser, but it really restricts the device if that’s the ONLY kind of applications it can run without heavy hacking. On the other side, applications for S60v3 are great (granted, a pain for developers now with the state of Symbian Signed), but it’d be really nice to have a larger base of quick weblets to perform small tasks while browsing.

    The iPhone brought on a lot of these nice weblets to use on S60 devices which can be opened in another browsing window without the browser crashing, but it seems development as a whole when focusing on weblets with S60 in mind is really low on support. I’d love to see more Calculator apps and other little tools available like this and formatted to work in the S60 browser, not in the iPhone’s browser with that black gloss color scheme in every single one.

    Speaking of browsers, another point worth mentioning is that, like the S60 browser, the iPhone’s browser will close the music app as well if a large enough website is opened. As I said, we’re all more alike than we think.

  • DBL

    You’re right, these web sites are not real applications. That’s just marketing crap. But that really has nothing to do with whether or not the iPhone is revolutionary. Nor does whether it is ‘open’ or ‘closed’. It is entirely possible to believe that iPhone is revolutionary while agreeing that it is a closed system and that third party sites are not applications. In fact, Apple’s claims that it is ‘revolutionary’ don’t even reference either openness or third-party stuff.

    Nice sleight-of-hand there, but you are not really talking about what you want us to believe you are talking about. In that way, you are pretty much exactly like Apple when they call websites ‘applications’.

  • mark

    What is an application? Seriously.

    I’d love it if iPhone had an SDK and locally-based apps (and I’m certain it will someday), but I don’t see why code executing on a website and providing me a useful UI and functional service is not an “application”. Unless you define an application as something that provides a service when not interfaced to something external to the device executing it. Or you define an application as something that has the ability to fully utilize all the resources of the device it executes on.

    But then why these distinctions (for which I can find counter-examples)?

    Separately, for those readers who may not know, the WebKit browser engine used by Nokia, was birthed by and most heavily supported by Apple. Surfin Safari is a blog by David Hyatt, who is an Apple employee.

  • Will Park

    I agree, the iPhone is not revolutionary because of web sites that we like to refer to as web “applications.” Whatever, that’s just one way to deal with the closed system that Apple is so adamant at keeping closed – or so it seems.

    But, until Apple releases (if they ever decide to, an SDK) more and more hackers/developers will be opening up the iPhone to native applications.

  • Apocalypso

    Well, its hard to say something about phone that lacks file manager for example 😕 phone that lacks cut/copy/paste feature or isn’t capable to process crappy MMS format or record video in 3gp format at least, or phone that has BT but can’t send a files over it, will stop it here as I haven’t enough time to count all cons, crap is crap and that’s it.

    We all know that iPhone is nothing but the crap, but general public won’t know that and most of them won’t even realize that when they actually buy one.

    The iPhone brings nothing new to the market, except multi touch of course, actually, if it brings anything new, its the look, and honestly, slim and sleek design has been seen before, and it will be done again, Prada is nice example and it going to be even better and better equipped phone with more features.

    Price, size, weight, height, width, design, brand, OS, who really care, features before all and in terms of features it simply sucks, it’s a piece of **** with nice screen over it and extremely good marketing behind it.. . .

    Cheers,
    Teo

  • Will Park

    Apple update via iTunes. That’s all I’m going to say. 😎

  • JonnyBruha

    Is an Apple update going to add a 3mp camera with autofocus? Or do you have to perform the update with a Mac to get those features? 😛

  • Varun

    I agree.

    Web Applications just cannot become mobile applications.

    Iphone apps are insanely hyped.

    A mistake ” an interview with Ganesh Silverman ”

    Its Ganesh Sivaraman and not SilverMan

  • Stefan Constantinescu

    typo fixed, thanks Varun

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