Open Mobile Platforms
What has been one of the biggest problems facing the growth of mobile smart phones within the enterprise and for business use in general? That's easy-it's the dearth of good applications available to run on these devices and the fact that many of the good applications that do exist have been tied to one platform or carrier.
For years, developers have bemoaned the fact that to have any chance of having a popular mobile application, they must spend the considerable time and resources to develop for multiple platforms and devices. In addition, even after doing this, they face the cost and the whims of the major carriers, which decide which applications they will offer for devices.
Outside of the carriers, nearly everyone understands that this system is broken, with the only benefit being the example it provides for proponents of net neutrality (as in, imagine what it would be like if you couldn't use eBay if your ISP was Verizon, or if only AT&T subscribers could access Google).
A ray of light in the darkness of mobile applications first appeared with the launch of the iPhone and other devices that provided good Web experiences. This made it possible for some developers to bypass the carriers entirely by developing their applications for the mobile Web. However, this wasn't a solution for all mobile developers, and it comes with its own limitations, such as lack of offline support.
It was the launch of the Apple App Store this year that truly showed what can happen when users are given some choice around finding applications for their mobile phones. By nearly any measure, this App Store has been a success, providing a number of application options for iPhone users, enough to make users of other phones extremely jealous.
However, the Apple App Store isn't perfect-it is still tied to one device and one carrier and still has control over the developers and applications that it allows. It will be the rise of the Google Android devices that could spur real openness in mobile applications.
The Android Market will, like the Apple App Store, make it simple for users to find applications for their devices. However, this will potentially be across any device that runs Android on any carrier. Also, it will include free and open-source applications as well as commercial applications and limited hurdles for developers.
As these application stores gain traction, I expect that it will force other mobile OS vendors as well as the carriers to offer similarly open application markets for their devices.
With these developments, we should finally start to see in 2009 some of the explosion in mobile applications that we've been expecting for years, and we will take another step toward a mobile Web that offers some of the same freedoms of choice that the current Web does.