Viva La Sloth!

So for a little while I’ve been giving this talk on the current state of mobile web app development and why Ajax (as we know it) isn’t gonna be the next big thing on phones. Last week, to my tremendous embarrassment, I was asked to give a summarized version of the same talk in front of a lot of folks who actually work on the phone browsers I’ve been slagging. Of course, me being embarrassed didn’t make the state of play on phones any better, but in discussions afterward it became clear that a lot of the people working on these browsers really do get what users want. Not surprisingly, the ones with the best understanding of how to improve the experience were the same people that don’t have their bills paid by the OpCos. And then there was J2ME.

Long story short, between XML, XHTML, J2ME, WAP, and BREW it seems the mobile content industry has been so preoccupied trying to stuff useful data into sausages for delivery that they totally forgot why the web won: it lets you be lazy.

The web lets Moore’s Law play out to the advantage of people who don’t want to understand XML, XHTML, what a “mobile variant” or “compact profile” is, or why they should really think about entering into some sort of totally lame legal agreement with Evil OpCo X. That is to say, HTML and “tag soup” let every Joe and Srinivas put something into the commons for everyone else to see. Even if it’s was “broken”, you still get best-effort results, and that implies that every successive hardware generation can work harder to do the “right thing”. Why is this totally awesome? ‘Cause I get to be lazier as a result.

So here’s a quick note to the folks who are holding on to the J2ME or XML pipe dreams: you’re infrastructure. Cope. Yes, you’ll still be “ubiquitous”, but you’ll never be loved, and don’t imagine that you’re hard to replace. The really creative stuff isn’t going to get done on top of you until you learn to start applying those cycles to letting people be lazy. And I don’t mean “here, have a gig of tools that you can use to produce a ‘hello world’ once you learn this programming language”. I mean “so what can I do with Notepad?”

Actually, maybe that’s what we should call it: The Law of Notepad: if creative people can’t make something awesome using the lamest of production tools, your platform is gonna loose.


  1. Chto
    Posted October 21, 2006 at 12:55 am | Permalink

    Maybe that’s why people should consider i-Mode and CHTML more seriously…
    I would love to see DoCoMo allowing more operators to use i-Mode as a core
    business for mobile content delivery.

  2. Posted October 21, 2006 at 10:55 am | Permalink

    Hey Chto,

    Perhaps you’re not getting what I’m after. The incentive for folks to put the web on phones today has everything to do with existing content. i-Mode and CHTML get the tag soup bits right, but Moore’s Law makes it pretty clear that SRTL we’re gonna be able to handle regular ‘ol HTML without much of a problem. Opera Mobile and S60’s Reindeer already do it. Trying to instantiate a new web (and hope that some OpCo will suddenly play nice to enable it) is how we wound up in this mess in the first place.


  3. Posted November 9, 2006 at 8:24 am | Permalink

    Yes indeed, i-mode is something which i believe is very corporate to handle. I think its better to change stance now.

2 Trackbacks

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