Yes – it’s almost upon us. Those who have been paying attention to my Twitter-stream recently will know that could only be talking about Over the Air. I’ve been working hard on putting together the session schedule for this event, with some great help, notably from Tory and Franco who put on EcoMo the weekend before last. I’m very pleased with how things have turned out. We’re featuring a program that delves into technical detail on numerous topics related to mobile development and at the same time covers user experience, design and the emerging field of service design on mobile. There will be panels, sessions, in-depth tutorials and master class sessions, all against a backdrop of an over-night hack-a-thon. At last year’s Over the Air, I remember walking from session to session and realizing that people were learning in an environment that is possibly unique in the world of mobile events. This year, sessions will cover such disparate topics as widget design and development, iPhone, Windows Mobile, W3C standards, Java, Symbian, Qt, Open Source, Teen insights, and Augmented Reality – and that’s just for starters! Imperial College London will once again provide a great back-drop for this event. If you’re a developer, designer, user experience practitioner, technically or design-minded entrepreneur, or anyone else who’s interested in learning about the real state of art of building mobile experiences, I hope to see you there!
I read with some interest about the debacle of Amazon’s “total recall” of 1984 (and other books) yesterday. Kindle owners found some e-books they had downloaded and paid for had mysteriously disappeared from their readers (and that they had been reimbursed). Amazon apparently tried to explain away this digital goods heist by insisting that the material had been sold under false pretenses and that when the real rights-holder had complained they chose to pull the content. Now – I am not a Kindle user but I am an AppleTV user and I have to say I found something quite familiar about the whole Kindle thing. Movies and television shows regularly disappear from Apple’s iTunes catalog (and thus from the content available through AppleTV) due to rights negotiations issues. If a movie is due to be shown on television, for example, the rights holder can have that title yanked from the online catalog. This is a power that rights holders have never before wielded. Movie studios certainly couldn’t go around to every video rental store and pull the title. The prospect of publishers storming into your house and removing books from your shelves sounds like a scene out of Fahrenheit 451. But in the era of closed DRM-enabled systems they suddenly have this power, and it is a power rights holders are increasingly choosing to exert. Now, I haven’t had content yanked off my AppleTV yet, but I could imagine it happening, especially now that Amazon has shown the way. Remember, we are talking about marketing executives here. Do you really want your reading, viewing and listening choices within your own library to be at the whim of marketing executives? Big Brother had nothing on these guys.
The fact that Amazon has recanted and said “sorry, we’ll never do it again” is kind of beside the point. They have taught people the object lesson that this is possible. The goods they thought they were buying are in fact a license, and that license can be revoked at any time. If the Bittorrent era has taught us anything it is that consumers, when faced with untenable choices, will take the power into their own hands and circumvent these barriers put in place to stop them. Likewise, when given a fair shake, consumers will gladly pay for digital content. The general industry trend is towards openness, but it strikes me that we need a new consumer compact around expectation of digital goods – one that swings the pendulum back in the consumers’ favor. Otherwise the absolute power of the rights holders will continue to corrupt them, absolutely.
One really interesting conversation that emerged at the Mobile 2.0 Europe conference last week was about the emerging Apps culture. Clearly, mobile apps (applications, widgets, webapps whatever you want to call them – I’m talking about data-driven experiences on the phone here, irrespective of platform and technology) are in the midst of a renaissance. However, I have also been hearing a lot of critical voices recently talking about “useless” apps and questioning “how many apps do people really use on their phones?” So I made a point at the Developer Day portion of the event that Apps are like Songs which I didn’t actually think was terribly original but people there seemed to jibe with it. Why are apps like songs? Someone else commented that you can “use them once and throw them away” but I’m not sure that captures it – because you don’t throw songs away really. They might stay in your music library unplayed for months or even years only to resurface at the right time. I was reminded of this today when someone challenged me to find an app that made effective use of the “shake” feature. I immediacy called up the “shotgun” app on the iPhone, which is kind of a “one joke app” like the Zippo lighter or the Carling beer. It doesn’t mean they’re any less worthy – and in the case of the Zippo or the Carling (ugh – I hate Carling — but I love the app!) you can see the marketing potential of apps as songs. But it’s not all about new avenues for selling you terrible beer. Apps can be art as well. One of the first apps I ever downloaded for my (then) jailbroken iPhone allowed you to take a picture and share it, as part of an ever-changing collage, with a community of other users who were also using the app that that given moment. No purpose. No monetization angle. But very compelling. Are these apps any less purposeful because a user might only run them a few times? I don’t think so. I think this apps-as-songs approach changes the way we need to think about software development in this context, and also reinforces my belief that software development is a creative discipline.
Osney Media’s Mobile Web 2.0 Summit has wrapped up. In all, it was a good opportunity to discuss the trends and technologies in the mobile industry, mobile social networking, etc… For me, it was a good opportunity to talk about the convergence that I see happening between the mobile and Web industries and communities. It was also a great opportunity to talk about the opportunities I see opening up in the mobile widget space, and the vital importance that we converge on a single standard for mobile (and desktop) widgets across the industry. Judging from the response to my talk, there is still a lot of misunderstanding of this space in the industry and a lot more education and evangelism required.
So be it! If you want to find out more about these topics and others vitally important to the future of the mobile and Web industries, come join me in Barcelona on June 18th and 19th for Mobile 2.0 Europe. Day one will be a developer day featuring presentations, tutorials (and unstructured sessions) on key software technologies and innovations in the mobile and mobile Web space and day two will be more strategic, focusing on disruptive innovation in the mobile space and featuring startups and innovators from across the spectrum. It’s going to be an exciting two days.
On U.S. election day last year, November 4th, I co-organized with Katrin Verclas of MobileActive a Barcamp style event we called “Mobile Tech 4 Social Change” focusing on the increasing role mobile technology is having in social activism, grass-roots organization, social development, and in the developing world. It’s possible we started a movement because MobileActive has gone on to run two more camps since then, in New York and Washington DC. Now Mobile Tech 4 Social Change is coming to London. I’ll be hosting this event on May 23rd in at Vodafone’s offices in London. For all the details and to register, go to MobileActive.org’s page on the event. If you’re interesting in helping to build a bridge between the mobile industry and the social activism / social development space then I encourage you to attend!
Betavine (Vodafone R&D’s developer community portal), with some help from the inimitable folks at Carsonified, have laucnhed a new blog dedicated to Mobile Widgets and Web Apps. The idea is to get as much information out as possible about what Betavine and Vodafone are doing in the widget space and what’s going on with the latest widget standardization efforts. We’ll also be featuring information on upcoming events, like the W3C widget camp at WWW2009 in Madrid next week and the upcoming Vodafone Mobile Widget Camp in Amsterdam on May 2nd. We’ll also be posting on Twitter on @MobileWidgets on Twitter. Stay tuned!
Carsonified built a great micro-site around their Twiggy Twitter search widget. The site also includes lots good information about mobile widget development including a step-by-step guide on the development process. Check it out (and learn how to win £20,000 in the Betavine widget contest).
I’m here at SXSW in Austin this week-end working on getting the word out on mobile widgets and mobile Web and talking about mobile web in the developing world on a panel on Tuesday. Meanwhile I’m using Qik to cover the conference and have some conversations with people here about mobile and other topics. Follow me on Qik or on Twitter to get updates and if you’re here in Austin, come by the Driskill hotel tonight at 5 for Betavine Beers West.
It’s that time again! With 2008 in the bag, what will be the key themes for 2009 (as far things “mobile 2.0″ go anyway). Alan Kay famously quipped that the best way to predict the future is to invent it. In that spirit: if I have anything to say about it, 2009 will bring with it increasing convergence between the mobile and Web communities. Right now, these communities are miles apart. I can attest to that because I’m often stuck in the middle of this clash of civilizations. I believe the mobile and Web ecosystems are going to converge, but a prerequisite for this to happen is that these communities need to converge. As long as mobile people only talk to other mobile people and Web people only talk to other Web people, there will be no convergence. At Mobile 2.0 in November, we successfully brought together these communities, at least in part, to talk about the future of both mediums. Watch out for more of this in 2009.
Prediction two: mobile widgets and Web applications will rule the day. W3C-standard Web widget platforms and downloadable widgets will proliferate and begin to eclipse the current proprietary platforms for downloadable mobile applications. This will be accompanied by increasingly capable Web and widgets platforms (with hooks into device capabilities and functions like the camera, location, etc…). Yes, there will be fragmentation in this space that will have to be reigned in. Nobody said reinventing the Web was easy.
All the best for 2009!