Right now there is a big battle going on for the domination of the mobile operating system space. Own the mobile platform and you own the world. Where have we seen this before?
Oh, right. On the desktop. There were at some point at least 5 OS’s (with two major contenders in Windows and the MacOs) competing for that same holy grail, world domination through the desktop. You bought your computer based on the software you wanted to run. Office and exchange? That’s most likely a windows box for you. Designer running photoshop? Well it sort of runs on windows but you’re better off buying a Mac.
That’s all changed now, the web literally blew away the platform differences to something that is comparable to a flavor rather than a huge technical difference or advantage. We now run spreadsheets and word processors in our browsers. Even photoshop like functionality is migrating to the web and we’re already seeing web based CAD software and other specialty niches that would have been unthinkable a few years ago as migrating to the web. Of course the race is far from over but there is an unmistakable trend here.
The web, which started out as a very limited collection of linked pages with crummy images is now a full-fledged application delivery platform and it’s getting better with every day that passes. Some of the tech is still pretty messy but that too will change, with every new library that is released some pain point is removed and changed into a single function call. JQuery alone probably saved more man-years that you could easily account for.
I think the whole ‘war for mobile’ will end in exactly the same way as the war for the desktop did. The web standards,phones and browsers will adapt to the point where ‘always on’ is the norm, all traffic including voice is data and ‘apps’ will be delivered through the web rather than installed from an App store. Someone might even win the war and end up with an end-run around their victory by the users that simply use whatever browser they’ve got and they won’t care one bit what OS their phone runs.
We’ve already seen this movie, and we already know how it ends. That won’t stop the various parties to try to gain control, the cake is just too tasty to be ignored in favor of open protocols and standards, even the hint of gaining a microsoft like stranglehold on the mobile world is bringing out the long knives.
But in the longer term it will all fade away to be replaced with the www equivalent of mobile, and that’s when the real money will be made.
Until then, grab some popcorn and watch the battle, or place your bets with either side. Fortunes will be made and lost, in the end the web will prevail.
Daleharvey points out this gem: coding for the mobile web, which contains the sentence:
“For the record: Historians will classify native mobile apps as a short resurgence of shareware that was swiftly again replaced by the web @cramforce”
Which I think brilliantly sums it up. Remember download.com? That was just another early app store.