Mobile is the word at Web 2.0 conference

Among the various engines driving the Web 2.0 Expo in San Francisco – and arguably it is the biggest engine – is the attention on all things mobile.

With social platform applications such as Facebook already dotting the new Web and occupying the resources of a plethora of new Internet efforts, developers are increasingly turning their attention to the Mobile Web.

“We are at the precipice of the next generation of the Web,” said Fling Media CEO Brian Fling at a heavily attended workshop on Tuesday, April 22, citing Apple’s iPhone as the most important factor in the mobile world.

“The iPhone is the game-changer we’ve been waiting for,” he said. “It’s the shape of what’s to come. I can’t go to any event in the world and not talk about the iPhone, no matter how hard I try. It has changed America’s – and the world’s – perception of what mobile technology can do.

“Four years ago, I didn’t think anything like this would work.”

Mitchell Baker, the chairman of the Mozilla Foundation, reminded a keynote crowd on Thursday, “there is one Web, with information at its core, independent of the device.

“The nearly 30 years of knowledge and experience of developing for the desktop experience is constraining us,” she said. “We don’t know what people what to do with their mobile devices. Do they want to have credit card capability? What?”

Jonathan Zittrain, author of “The Future of the Internet – And How To Stop It,” said in his Thursday keynote, “The mobile platform is where Internet 1.0 was in 1994.”

Indeed, on Thursday the conference featured a number of “focus tracks” specifically dealing with mobile. Developers and content specialists crowded in, hoping for clues as to what “Mobile 2.0” will look like.

And no wonder.

According to Fling, whose Tuesday talk generated the most post-conference buzz for that day, there are currently 2.9 billion people worldwide who use mobile devices, mostly for telephone in the United States and Western Europe. (The world population is estimated at 6.5 billion.)

However, in factoring the third world, as well as China, 1.3 billion mobile device users reach Internet content through their mobiles. It may come as somewhat of a shock to U.S. users, but fewer people worldwide access the Internet by desktop (1.1 billion) than by a mobile phone or other pocket device.

By 2010, Fling said, mobile industry insiders project that half the world will have Web access though their mobile devices.

“It’s not a medium like any other mass mediums we have seen,” he said. “It’s the first truly mass medium. It’s the first ‘always-on’ mass medium; it’s the first ‘always carried’ mass medium. Significantly, seven of 10 mobile users sleep within reach of their mobile device.

“It’s the only mass medium with a built-in payment channel, and it’s the first medium that offers ‘point of thought’ capability; that is, you can create or consume content whenever the mood strikes. It can do everything that previous mass mediums can do.

“It’s an inherently disruptive medium.”

Even so, until now developers have eschewed creating applications for mobiles, if for no other reason than the dizzying number of different devices, all operating on different networks and protocols. In the U.S. alone there are more than 200 different kinds of mobile devices.

Apple’s iPhone, Fling said, changed all that.

For the first time, mobile content is beautifully rendered and is engineered to take its location into account; it’s the only one with a flat-rate data plan, meaning you’re not charged every time you use it; there is no subsidization plan, such as Verizon’s two-year lock-in contract in exchange for a heavily reduced device cost. Plus, it features a portable device convergence with the iPod, for example, and iTunes, where iPhone software updates can be downloaded.

In the nine months since its launch, Apple already has released four software updates, according to the Apple Web site.

“The impact on the developer communities cannot be dismissed,” Fling said.

He said the iPhone already has grabbed 20 percent market share in the U.S., and Apple estimates it will have sold 10 million of them by the end of the year.

Already there have been 1,457 mobile Web applications for the iPhone, and 131 apps were created in the 14 days leading up to the Web 2.0 Conference. In the two months prior to the conference, 600 new applications were invented for the iPhone. Of the iPhone users, 84 percent say they use it to access news and information via the Web.

And finally, Fling said the iPhone currently accounts for 15 percent of all Web traffic, with its only rival being the computer desktop.

But it’s not just Apple that is making the mobile world crackle. In the vast exhibit hall at the conference, which is being held at the Moscone Center in downtown San Francisco, Nokia unveiled a new iPhone-like device, and other phone makers are falling in line.

What this means for developers and content creators is an entirely new world of possibilities.

“For example,” Baker said in her presentation, “the idea of a ‘browser’ now is an ancient metaphor. Nobody actually ‘browses’ on the Web. Instead, we live in the Internet.

“Another bad metaphor is the actual term ‘mobile device.’ We, as humans, are mobile, not the device.”

Baker and the Mozilla crowd are banking on Firefox as being one of the more important platforms for developers who are working on Mobile 2.0.

“We need an open development platform, and at Mozilla, we view Firefox as that platform.”

In the last six months, she said, Firefox has been working on a browser that works on mobiles, and the organization is testing its prototype.

“We’re doing releases now,” she said. “It is an open platform, with no limits on specs and no SDKs (software development kits).

Mobile-oriented sessions on Thursday included “Mobile Ajax and the Future of the Web,” “From Desktop to Device: Moving Into A Convergent World” and “Understanding Mobile: From Web 2.0 to World 2.0.”

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