The mobile Web era is here, but there are plenty of old PC-style platform wars ahead, so place your bets for the 2011 Smartphone World Series.
SAN FRANCISCO, Calif. – The post-PC era of mobile Internet Protocol networks is here, but proprietary platforms still exert a hefty influence. That's a lesson I learned yesterday from, of all places, a Major League Baseball executive.
Some 37 percent of all people who accessed MLB.com this season did so from mobile devices, about twice the 2009 figures and rising. "In 2011 more people will access our service from mobile devices than desktop or laptop dinosaurs," said Bob Bowman, chief executive of MLB.com in a panel at the Open Mobile Summit here.
Venture capitalist Ann Winblad agreed, citing market research that said 19 percent of this year's 1.3 billion handsets will be smartphones, rising to 25 percent in 2012. Half the devices on corporate networks will be mobile by 2015, and as many as 30 new tablet designs will ship by the end of the year, she predicted.
"Non PC devices are the dominant platform--how unprepared the enterprise is for this massive shift and their promiscuous employees," she said.
It ain't exactly an easy out for developers at places such as MLB.com, either.
The baseball franchise dishes out services for iPhones, Android phones, Blackberries and more. It supports both HTML5 and Adobe Flash, and it works with the peculiarities of various wireless networks, said Bowman.
That's when it clicked for me. In a world of video and graphics, the particulars of the hardware platform are still vital.
That's why Apple needs its A4 processor and iOS: they keep developers locked into its proprietary world.
It's ironic developers like MLB.com have to cover all the bases. This is the Web era of write once, run anywhere.
Out in the hallway at the Summit, Funambol was showing its open source code for synching mobile devices to the cloud. Everything runs in the browser except a thin layer of platform-specific code.
But most coders need tight links into the graphics and video accelerators, the camera and the GPS and their APIs. So running in a browser is not always the best way forward.
Indeed, Bowman said MLB.com is hungry to adopt new and more efficient video encoding schemes, but there is no video decode support for them in handsets. "We need handset makers at the table," he said.
The mobile IP nets are coming fast. Verizon Wireless CTO Anthony Melone said as many as 110 million of his subscribers will have access to LTE this year, delivering even under heavy loads 5-10 Mbits/second and 30 milliseconds or less of latency.
"Gamers will have a field day with this spawning a whole new migration of online games that move from the PC to handsets," Melone said.
Ah games, there's the rub. Again developers will have to tune their graphics for a dozen platforms. The mobile Web era is here, but there are plenty of old PC-style platform wars yet ahead.