The SplInternet ?

Amazon Kindle,Apple iPhone +  iPad,  Google Nexus, Blackberry smartphones, and the dozens of other devices are all building up incompatible application libraries in a race reminiscent of the PC software/hardware wars of the late 1970;s and early 1980’s. Apple  was a leader then but Microsoft arrived late but with a huge partner in IBM – and then spurned IBM and still took the prize, dominance on the PC OS and basic app desktop software.  In the headlong rush to be the major mobile device what has been roughly unified on , the Internet Experience is being splintered and the app development software is strongly proprietary. Business Week has a good overview.

First it is important to note that almost all of the new devices support a browser of some sort – but along with the app development language, there is a move to proprietary. Here is a quick scorecard:
Amazon Kindle and Kindle 2
App Development  – uses Java J2ME with proprietary access extensions in KDK
Web Browser –  none yet but in development
Apple iPhone, iPad, iPod etc
App development proprietary Objective C, rejecting Adobe Flash, Google Voice
Web BrowserSafari [worst record for security], rejecting Opera mobile browser
Google Android for Nexus and other smartphones, Netbooks
App Development – uses Java J2ME with proprietary access extensions in ADK
Web Browser – Google Chrome plus  Dolphin, Opera, and Firefox at 2010 end
Google ChromeOS for Netbooks
App Development – uses Web services and the Cloud- this is Sun’s thin client Web-only machine resurrected
Web Browser – Google Chrome browser only
Microsoft Windows Phone 7
App Development – still awaits an SDK but wont run Windows Mobile 6.x or earlier apps
Web Browser – IE and Bing , none other envisaged.
Nokia Symbian for smartphones etc
App Development uses Java J2ME with a variety of Nokia and 3rd party extensions
Web Browser – Nokia’s own, Ozone, Opera Mini 5 etc
Palm webOS for Palm Pre, Pixi
App Development – Apps on webOS are built with HTML, CSS, and JavaScript.
Web Browser – like Google ChromeOS, webOS utilizes Palm Web Browser
RIM Blackberry with its smartphone line-up
App Development – uses Java with many RIM and 3rd party GUI widgets and extensions
Web Browser – RIM new Webkit browser  plus Opera Mini 5

From this list it is easy to see that Apple and Microsoft are the most proprietary as one might expect from the company’s past history. Google ChromeOS and Palm webOS are both Web based tools that are  Open Source. There browsers are each proprietary and are keys to running their systems. There is a remarkable congruence in using the Web and Web tools as a primary source of development – particulary in the case of Palm. Finally all of the other major players with the exception of Amazon are Java-based and have multiple browsers with Opera being the key player. Opera like Chrome tends to be Web standards based. But with Sun’s Java [like MySQL database], there is a question of how fast Java development will occur given Oracle’s own proprietary interests.

So as long as Web browsers are supported on the new devices, including Java Applets and Adobe Flash media, then Splinternet is diminished. However, there will always be proprietary Java and other SDK extensions.  But of course key players like Amazon, Apple, and Microsoft are not supporting competitive tools – so distinct splintering will occur unless these suppliers change their tune.

However, the lessons from the Web World are not encouraging as major players  have run roughshod over Web standards. Microsoft is still remiss on promises to implement 1998 Web standards for CSS, XML, DOM, and JavaScript in its latest IE browser and other software. Redmond also retains huge swaths of proprietary extensions – arguing that it cant force changes to standard on its customer base. Meanwhile, HTML5 is considered the new Web 2.0 gold standard, but again Microsoft is hedging its commitments to HTML 5. And major  corporate leadership groups for IT  and Web standards like the Business Roundtable have been utterkly ineffective in exacting/extracting  discipline from non-standard vendors like Microsoft, etc.

So in the gold-rush for market leadership in mobile devices, do expect expect splintering from standards. Will it be widespread? Well the resolution of the Apple vs Adobe on Flash conflict and the upcoming IE9 announcements at Microsoft’s Mix 2010 conference March 15-17th will have a lot to say about heretofore the greatest source of Web Standards splintering.


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