AJAX and the Mobile Web

A workshop will allow leading vendors to address the mobile Web and the need for more applications.

With smart phones becoming more prevalent among users and delivering greater capability than ever before, where are the applications to take advantage of all this power?

That is a key question the OpenAjax Alliance and the World Wide Web Consortium, or the W3C, hope to answer at a workshop they are jointly holding on Sept. 28.

The two organizations are coming together to encourage discussion about—and build a more complete picture of—the future of interactive mobile Web applications, organizers of the event said.

The workshop will be at Microsofts campus in Mountain View, Calif. The timing for the event coincides with the AJAX World conference, in Santa Clara, Calif., which ended Sept. 26, and a membership meeting of the OpenAjax Alliance Sept. 27.

Meanwhile, organizers of the joint workshop said participants will explore user and industry-use cases and challenges around AJAX (Asynchronous JavaScript and XML) applications on mobile devices and what types of applications are likely to succeed in mobile environments. Participants also will look for ways to identify the unique aspects of the mobile Web experience, and how they affect AJAX application development. In addition, they will discuss the applicability of standardization activities in this developing area.


Read here about Microsoft joining the OpenAjax Alliance.

Jon Ferraiolo, Web architect in the Emerging Technologies division of IBMs Software Group, and Daniel Appelquist, a senior technology strategist at Vodafone, are chairing the workshop.

Ferraiolo, who is also the director of the OpenAjax Alliance, said the question of the Web on mobile devices is complex. There are whole conferences on the subject of the mobile Web. For example, on Oct 15 Vodafone is sponsoring a day of speakers on the subject, he said. At the joint OpenAjax Alliance/W3C event, there will be nearly 40 position papers submitted, each reflecting the points of view of companies or individuals in the industry, Ferraiolo said.

"What I am hoping is that this workshop will provide a broad industry perspective on things having to do with the term mobile AJAX and help inform two industry groups [W3C and OpenAjax Alliance] so that we can start new initiatives or modify existing initiatives to help the industry be successful with HTML and AJAX technologies on mobile devices," Ferraiolo told eWEEK.

Workshop participants are also expected not only to look at the need for more applications, but also at easing the job of developers who will be building mobile Web applications.

Dion Almaer, an engineer at Google and co-founder of Ajazian.com, said that there are "millions of developers that know how to hack out some Web stuff. On the other hand, building mobile apps in Java with MIDP [Mobile Information Device Profile] or the like is insanely difficult. So, if you can let people develop apps for the phone in a simple way—such as AJAX—then you get all of the developers."

In terms of what IBM, of Armonk, N.Y., brings to the table, Ferraiolo said that "probably the most important is that we are a proxy for our enterprise customers who want to extend their applications and services onto mobile devices."

The W3C has multiple mobile initiatives already in place, including MWI (Mobile Web Initiative ).

James Pratt, senior product manager on the Windows Developer Experience Team at Microsoft, said the Redmond, Wash., company is looking to provide developers with choices and flexibility for bringing their applications to mobile devices, whether via Mobile AJAX, Silverlight for Mobile Devices, the .Net Compact Framework, or native applications.


To read about Googles release of an AJAX feed API, click here.

Workshop participants who have submitted position papers include AOL, the Dojo Foundation, Google, Harvard Medical School, IBM, ICESoft, Microsoft, Motorola, NEC, Nexaweb, Nokia, DoCoMo, Research in Motion, SAP, Sprint, Sun Microsystems and Yahoo.

In a position paper for the workshop, Alan Tai, lead engineer on the mobile search product AOL launched into beta in August, called for more application development.

Tai wrote that until "recently, smart phones were a high-end niche device for the business professional: expensive and mostly relegated to e-mail. Some devices can attempt to browse the full Web, but the screens are tiny, layouts squashed, and scripting support (much less AJAX) lacking or nonexistent. As a result, smart phone users end up going back to the same static and boring XHTML-MP [Extensible HyperText Markup Language Mobile Profile] formatted sites that simple WAP [Wireless Application Protocol] phone users went to. Mobile website designers could create a template for smart phones, but why bother if the segment was too small and fragmented and speeds too slow for rich media over mobile?"

That has changed over the past two years, Tai said later in the paper. "Most smart phones, notably Windows Mobile and Symbian S60, support JavaScript and Ajax over speedy 3G networks."

Tai concluded that the demand for mobile Web development will only grow, with smart phones powerful enough to support client-side scripting and AJAX and at the same time becoming cheap enough to drive widespread adoption.

"To satisfy this increasing demand for rich Web applications on smart phones and kick off the innovation, AOL just released a mobile search engine that uses DHTML tabs to make navigation faster and more intuitive," he said. "In the mobile search arena, we will see more DHTML and AJAX used for on-demand loading of results and interactive widgets, among many other uses."


Check out eWEEK.coms for the latest news, reviews and analysis in programming environments and developer tools.