Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Mini Manifesto

I wrote the points below to a colleague this morning, and I realized that they do a pretty good job of articulating the Skip "stake in the ground" on mobile software in general. Perhaps this a is "duh, no kidding" post. But I hope it's useful to someone who may be thinking about either introducing a new mobile product, or mobilizing an existing one:

Two-Screen Model

We’ve patterned our system after a two-interface system, one on the web, and one on the device, where both interfaces work against the same account, but are tailored to the web or mobile context respectively. We looked at how Microsoft Outlook and the Blackberry suite complement each other in offering access to the Microsoft Exchange account and we also looked at the Apple iTunes desktop client along with the iPod player software. Our belief is that those models work really well for users – a powerful management interface on the web or on the desktop, and then a custom-designed mobile client that picks up those settings and accesses the same data while on the go.

Smart Client Architecture

Although every phone (more or less) has a WAP/[X]HTML-lite browser, we believe that compelling user experiences will require at least a minimal client on the device. We like the smart client architecture as articulated by Microsoft: namely, an app that has access to local resources and privileges (local storage, control over the screen, security access for dialing, etc.) while gaining much of its leverage from remote network-based services. The app is offline capable, while the remote services make the client light and flexible across devices/platforms.

Client Device Development has Turned a Corner

In the past, it was not practicable for most companies to target a wide range of devices successfully. The devices were too disparate, and even the standards (famously J2ME) were absolutely not standard across devices. This environment is changing as we speak, and good progress has been made, so it is no longer prohibitive to target many devices. Skip is proof of that, with over 100 devices supported, on several platforms, and we’re a 5-man shop with other work to do too! Some specifics: Sprint has standardized all of their MIDP 2.0 phones on a single specific Java implementation, guaranteeing wide compatibility on Sprint with minimal effort (our tests have shown this is true in the real world, not just a Sprint PR world). Verizon and Adobe announced an agreement earlier this year to support a version of Flash on many of the new Verizon phones in North America. Mobile Flash has a track record in Asia/Pacific, so it’s not a “here’s my untested new world-conquering technology” play, and availability in the US should make it relatively easy to bring even sophisticated interfaces onto a whole bunch of phones using designer-friendly (rather than just coder-friendly) authoring tools.

Consumers

Consumers need a little marketing/education, but are hungry for mobile productivity tools. Especially the younger (16-35) demographic. These folks either assume their phone is capable of doing a lot, or they are easily persuaded. There is a real desire for anything that’s both useful (i.e. does something practical) and easy to use.

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