Mobile2.0: A Hindered Future

An interesting post on The Pondering Primate discusses the three major obstacles in the 'adoption of the physical world on mobile devices', or: when will the mobile web become useful. The lens, the software, and the service provider are billed as the three main problems.

In developing toupix (which is tantalisingly close to an alpha release, bar some loose ends to tie up), I have encountered several major issues, and share the frustrations caused to mobile developers.

The first obstacle, the lens, isn't much of an issue on my testing phone (Sony Ericsson K608i). The camera is OK, providing VGA quality pictures. However, certainly the software has caused problems: the manufacturer thought it sensible only to allow MMAPI access to the self-facing camera lens, not the more useful back-facing one. This means that users of this phone can only take self-portrait photos, or else shoot without a viewfinder by turning the phone back to front. This was clearly not one of Sony Ericsson's wisest decisions - MMAPI could at least be given a choice of camera, even at low resolution.

The second problem is the mobile provider's (Three UK) refusal to allow customers to browse outside their mobile web portal. Three offer the ability for a GBP15.00 or GBP45.00 per month (bandwidth dependent) charge, but this is designed for lap-/desktop connectivity using your phone as a modem.

Without knowing about this walled service, however, many hours were wasted contemplating why HTTP-POSTing from phone to web resulted in nothing being sent. After many forum posts, I discovered Three UK's restrictive measures and promptly bought an Orange PAYG SIM to use in the phone.

As the original article points out, service provider restrictions (including high cost GPRS access when compared to desktop connectivity) are something that could be resolved easily, but this is unlikely without mass consumer or developer pressure.

There are other obstacles to overcome - toupix is coded in MIDP2.0 Java, and makes use of several extension API's that are available at the discretion of the phone manufacturer. As such, the application's usefulness is dependent upon the provisions of the manufacturers. It does not, for example, work on the advanced O2 XDA IIi; this might be due to toupix's need for MMAPI compliance, but I am yet to confirmed this.

However, whilst toupix is progressing well enough for now, until the manufacturers and service providers find incentive to standardise, development for mobile platforms will only continue to be frustrating, to the degree of impossibility. This would be a wasted opportunity, as the mobile device (be it a phone or PDA, or something completely different) has a fundamental part to play in the future of the Web.

Perhaps what is needed is a metaphorical FireFox for the mobile service industry, something to shake it up and force reaction. FireFox arguably turned the browser market on its head, despite its relatively small market share. Until the mobile industry experiences at least something similar, the potential of mobile2.0 will continue to be strangled.