Google Mobile – The Future is Inside the Browser

Google apps in Safari mobile browser
Google apps in Safari mobile browser

Last week at Mobile Monday Toronto, Alex Nicolaou, Engineering Manager and Punit Soni, Product Manager of Google gave everyone a glimpse into their  insights on the mobile web.

They referenced the rapid transformation of the mobile landscape in three areas.

1. The Hardware: Users now have access to faster, more powerful smartphones. In the 80s the NCSA Cray X-MP24 cost more than $10 million dollars. Its solid state storage maxed out at 32GB and contained 32MB main memory. In 2010 the Nexus One comes with a maximum capacity of 32.5GB and 512MB of main memory and will cost you only $500.  The smartphone is essentially a superphone, becoming an extension of our senses through natural user interface inputs such as touch, gesture, voice and GPS.

2. The Users: There has been a significant sociological shift in how users relate to their phones. Users described their smartphones as being always on, constantly connected and their gateway to the world.

3. The Platform: Open platforms such as Android are spreading. Their phone is now a device personalized not only with content, but with applications. And apps are consumed like other types of media, an app may be downloaded, used once and deleted.  The cloud is always accessible through fast 3G networks and mobile browsers are capable of running advanced web content (except maybe flash on iPhones and iPads)

Google’s direction is to concentrate on hosting their apps within the browser, including Gmail, GTalk, Buzz, and Maps. They view the browser as the start to any web activity, whether it is a search, typing in a URL or accessing a bookmark. They are concentrating their development on HTML5 which provides a kit of revolutionary capabilities, as well as being the dominant rendering engine for the mobile web.

The first examples of Google’s mobile web strategy are already out there in applications such as Buzz. Users can not only see the posts and comments within their Buzz stream, but also the attached photos, geo-location information and expand the post to see the location on a Google Map. Users can extend the view and see the Buzz posts appear on a map, showing who is sharing information Nearby (using GPS) or anywhere in the world.

And because these apps live within the browser the user is always accessing the most current content and functionality, there’s no need to update them offering the ease of use seen within the traditional web.

Will more developers follow Google’s lead and concentrate on developing within the browser rather than building apps? I think that if a company is considering developing an application, they should seriously consider concentrating on creating the functionality within a mobile version of their site rather than the expense of creating multiple versions of apps to satisfy the needs of users on different mobile platforms.


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