Mobile

Mozilla and Yahoo over-promise on mobile

Mozilla

Mozilla unveiled a plan last week to build a better mobile platform, attempting to leverage its expertise in Web browsers to compete with Android’s and iOS’ giant 77% market share. The program, dubbed “Boot to Gecko” and announced at the big Mobile World Congress event in Barcelona, promises developers a new way to deploy applications to mobile using their existing Web-development skills. In essence, Mozilla is looking to make mobile app development more accessible to existing Web developers. Similarly, Yahoo announced its Web-standards based application platform called “Yahoo Cocktails.”

Both organizations are building mobile application development and deployment platforms based on recent advancements in HTML5, JavaScript, and CSS – technologies that development teams and CIOs can use without either Mozilla’s or Yahoo’s input. While the hype around these platforms may sound compelling, both platforms have a very long way to go to solve real-world mobile application challenges. For example: How do we build a mobile app that integrates with our ERP, creates a good customer impression, is available on multiple devices, does not paint us into a technological corner, and does not break the bank?

The truth is, the decisions technology leaders have to make now are much more dynamic than they were just five years ago.  Back then, we were all discussing the impending convergence of platforms. Our difficult decisions were about what browser version to support or whether we should build our web applications using Flash.

Today, we have not realized the promise of convergence and are actually witnessing the opposite. The reality is a divergence of platforms and devices, along with the giants of the tech industry clamoring for us to use their development tools and deployment platforms.

The largest issue with creating mobile applications is that the ecosystem these applications have to live within is not simple, but rather very complex. There are no good choices for enterprises needing to build across devices. Ironically, the world was a simpler place for developers when Microsoft owned 98% of the market.  There are many variables in choosing an application framework, including:

  • What are the features of the application that need native device support?
  • What programming skills do we currently have in-house?
  • How many different devices will we need to support now? How many tomorrow?
  • How consistent will the app need to be with our mobile web experience or with our other digital touch-points?
  • Where do we place bets on the future?
  • How complex is the application we are trying to build?
  • How often will we need to update the app?
  • How integrated will the app need to be with our existing IT infrastructure?
  • How important is it to be able to innovate on the user experience?

The potential of Yahoo’s and Mozilla’s efforts are exciting– as well as those of Adobe, Apple, Google, Microsoft, Oracle, IBM and the open source communities.  But there is still a long way to go before we that promise turns into actual working enterprise software. For now, at least, we are all stuck with incomplete ”new” technologies like HTML5 or developing in yesterday’s HTML, or building multiple versions of the same app in different technologies.  Perhaps one day, as an industry, we’ll finally fulfill that ideal of platform convergence while being able to respond to consumer divergence.

Anthony Franco is president and co-founder of Denver-based user experience agency EffectiveUI and a self-described, “usability fanatic.”

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