Welcome!

Wireless Authors: Pat Romanski, Liz McMillan, Liz Dickinson, Peter Silva, Carmen Gonzalez

Related Topics: AJAX & REA, Wireless, Web 2.0

AJAX & REA: Article

AjaxWorld Magazine: AJAX for Mobile Devices Will Be the Hallmark of "Mobile Web 2.0" in 2006

Why Mobile AJAX Will Be Preferred Over Java ME and XHTML

Recently, Opera announced the availability of AJAX on mobile devices through their browser. Considering the popularity of Opera in the browser market (especially in the mobile browser market), this announcement is indeed very significant. Having been involved in creating mobile services for a few years now, I believe AJAX will replace both Java ME and XHTML as the platform of choice for developing mobile applications.

Before I do so, a caveat – I believe that Mobile Web 2.0 is far more than ‘AJAX on mobile’. Mobile Web 2.0 involves applying all seven of the Web 2.0 principles to mobility. Here, I am discussing AJAX only i.e. only one facet of Web 2.0.

What is AJAX?
AJAX is an optional addition to Web 2.0. It is not a single technology. Rather, it’s a combination of a number of existing technologies acting together, namely:

  • XHTML and CSS for standards based presentation
  • Document Object Model for dynamic display and interaction
  • XML and XSLT for data interchange and manipulation
  • XMLHttpRequest for asynchronous data retrieval and
  • JavaScript to tie everything together

Until AJAX came along, it wasn't easy to replicate the rich and responsive interaction design of native applications. AJAX is different from other previous attempts in addressing this problem since it is based on existing, non-proprietary standards which are already familiar to developers.

In traditional web applications, most user action triggers an HTTP request. The server does some processing and returns the result back to the user. While the server is processing, the user waits! The ‘start-stop-start’ nature of web applications is good from a technical standpoint but not from a user interaction standpoint (since almost all user interaction is resulting in trips to the server and the user is waiting while the server is doing the work).

AJAX solves this problem by using the AJAX engine. At the start of the session, the AJAX application loads the AJAX engine. The AJAX engine is written in JavaScript as a JavaScript library and sits in a hidden frame. The user interacts with the AJAX engine instead of the webserver. If the user interaction does not require a trip to the server, the AJAX engine handles the interaction on its own. When the user interaction needs some data from the server, the AJAX engine makes a call asynchronously (via XML/XMLHttpRequest API ) without interrupting the user’s flow.

AJAX is ‘asynchronous’ in the sense that the AJAX engine is communicating with the server asynchronously to the user interaction. Thus, the user gets a seamless experience (i.e. the user is not waiting).

There's a momentum behind AJAX at the moment. Developers are already familiar with the technologies underlying it. All the technologies making up AJAX are mature and stable. AJAX is the foundation for many new applications on the web like Google suggest, Google Maps, some features of Flickr and Amazon’s A9.com.

Mobile Application Development Models and Their Shortcomings
From the above discussion and from the articles referenced , we can see that AJAX clearly solves two problems,  namely a superior UI and a standardized form of data retrieval. These two problems also apply to mobile devices and by extension, AJAX addresses them as well. However, I believe that it does far more! Specifically, it solves the following problems in the mobile context:

  1. The problem of market fragmentation
  2.  Porting woes (specific to downloading applications like those built on Java ME)
  3. Application distribution without ‘walls’

Additionally, it has the developer community behind it – which is a significant plus!

Let's consider existing mobile applications development. There are two principal ways to categorize mobile applications – Browsing applications and Downloading applications. There are others (like Messaging applications, SIM applications and embedded applications) - but a vast majority of the applications we see today fall under downloading or browsing applications.

Browsing applications: Browsing applications are conceptually the same as browsing the web but take into account limitations which are unique to mobility (for example - small device sizes). Similar to the web, the service is accessed through a microbrowser which uses a URL to locate a service on a wireless web server. The client is capable of little or no processing.

Downloading applications (Smart client applications): In contrast to browsing applications, downloading applications are applications that are first downloaded and installed on the client device. The application then runs locally on the device. Unlike the browsing application, a downloaded(or smart client) application does not need to be connected to the network when it runs. Downloading applications are also called ‘smart client’ applications because the client(i.e. the mobile device) is capable of some processing and / or some persistent storage (caching). Currently, most Java based games are downloaded applications i.e. they are downloaded to the client, require some processing to be performed on the client and need not be always connected to the network. Enterprise mobile applications such as sales force automation are often also examples of smart client applications.

Java ME is the most common mode of developing downloading applications and XHTML is most common way of developing browsing applications. Let's elaborate on the problems I have outlined before and then discuss how AJAX will solve them – potentially making XHTML and Java ME less relevant.

Problem One - Market fragmentation
Mobile applications are primarily consumer applications. The mobile data industry is an emerging industry. As with many industries in this phase of evolution, it is fragmented. To be commercially viable (especially considering the need for the network effect ), consumer applications need a large target audience.

This can come about either by a single proprietary standard such as BREW from Qualcomm (which obviously has its disadvantages) or through open standards not controlled by any one entity with few industry barriers.

To illustrate how market fragmentation affects commercial viability of a new service, I often recommend the following approach (most of the figures can be easily obtained from the web). The idea is to think in terms of ‘concentric circles’ in trying to find out the target audience for your application. 

Here's a sample set of steps I use:

  1. What is the population of the country where you are launching your application?
  2. What is the percentage of handset penetration amongst this population?
  3. Which operators are you targeting within this population? (Most countries have more than one mobile operator)
  4. Which handsets are you targeting within this population (not all operators support all handsets)?
  5. What is the technology of deployment for example Java, SMS, WAP etc?
  6. Does the application have any special technology needs such as location-based services? How many people have handsets equipped with this technology?
  7. What does a segmentation analysis of the subset reveal? (Simplest segmentation is male/female. Prepay/postpay etc)
  8. What are the channels to market for the segments we are targeting?
  9. What proportion of this subset do we expect to hit and convert to customers based on our marketing budget? (i.e. the conversion rate which can be typically 2% )

This will give you your target audience, and this target audience times number of potential downloads per month should give you an idea of your monthly revenue. This could then be tied against your cost base including your development costs, porting costs etc to arrive at a more tangible picture of success/failure of the new service.

The above methodology illustrates the problem of fragmentation and it implies that very few mobile services are profitable today. Thus, we have a proliferation of ‘broadcast content applications’ – e.g., ringtones, pictures but very few utility applications at a mass-market level.

Problem two - Porting woes
This problem is specific to downloaded applications (and more commonly Java ME). Write once run anywhere is a joke in the mobile context! – and through no fault of Sun. Consider the case of mobile games (a downloaded application) typically developed using Java ME.

First the good news...

  • Carriers such as Sprint and Vodafone report that mobile games and other data services now account for roughly 10 percent of their annual revenues;
  • Industry consulting firm Ovum notes that there are now more than 450 million Java-enabled handsets globally, in addition to the 38 million and 15 million BREW- and Symbian-enabled handsets;
  • Mobile-game publishers racked up $1.2 billion in global sales in 2004 and expect an even stronger year in 2005 as more and more consumers discover the tiny gaming consoles already in their pockets.

BUT then the pitfalls ..

  • Game porting generally requires developers to adapt to differences in screen resolution, processor speed, memory thresholds, and sound capabilities, all of which can vary wildly from device to device.
  • For publishers, this can not only exponentially increase game development and asset creation time, but can also cause them to miss critical time-to-market windows in a hyper-competitive industry.
  • As an example, imagine that you are a mid-sized game publisher with 30 games in your portfolio. To make your games available worldwide in five languages and on only 50 devices, you would need to create 7,500 different builds. At $2,500 per build, you would require a budget of nearly $19 million simply to handle porting.

This limits the business model severely and very few mobile games are profitable. (Author's note: original source for this section as per my blog Porting – the big barrier to entry with acknowledgements to Sameer Bhatia as per the blog)

Problem three - Application distribution without walls
The predicament of using Java ME as per the preceding example shows that it’s not enough to merely set up a community process as Sun has done (which works fine as far as the technology is concerned). The technology and the applications built upon it must remain homogeneous and interoperable to enable the network effect and gain critical mass. The fewer the ‘choke points’ for a platform, the better it is for the industry as a whole.

Why Will AJAX Replace Java ME and XHTML As the Preferred Mobile Development Platform?
Can AJAX solve the preceding problems? In my view, yes. AJAX is accessed through the browser. There are two ways a customer can get the browser – either the browser can be pre-installed on the phone by the manufacturer or it can be installed as a separate application

Anyone can download a browser for a smartphone as this Opera link shows for series 60 phones. This means all customers can potentially install their own browser and if enough people do, then we have critical mass with few ‘choke points’ – such as specific restrictions created by mobile operators. In other words, a means to bypass the walled garden.

Further, AJAX offers a superior user experience and already has the developer community supporting it. The possibility of attaining critical mass (due to fewer choke points) means more chance of monetizing the application – leading to a virtuous circle of better applications.

Java ME as it stands today is seriously flawed (not the technology but the business model). XHTML will be an ‘also ran’ because AJAX will offer a superior user experience. Hence, my belief that AJAX will be the preferred platform of choice for mobile applications at the expense of Java ME and XHTML.

Supporting Notes

  • I have said ‘preferred’ and not ‘replace’ i.e. I don’t expect AJAX to replace any technology
  • AJAX won’t solve all problems. You still need to create a service which is useful for mobile customers
  • AJAX is not the only attempt to create a better interface. There have been others with limited success but they are not across the industry(or are proprietary). For example mobile SVG from bitflash , superscape’s swerve technology for 3D gaming (which is the implementation of JSR 184 - Mobile 3D Graphics API for Java ME) and Macromedia (now Adobe) Mobile
  • Not a lot of people are actually browsing the mobile internet. Although WAP usage shows phenomenal growth, these figures include the use of WAP as a transport mechanism – typically for downloading content. In other words, every time you download a ringtone, you implicitly create a WAP page impression. I suspect the real figures used by consumers to actually browse the mobile internet are very low
  • Very few mobile operators have tried to engage with the developer community as such. Practically the only example I can think of is source o2
  • The plight of small developers can be illustrated from my discussions with a Korean vendor when I spoke at imobicon in Seoul. The vendor had finally managed to get his game listed on a UK portal. However, that was because a Korean aggregator managed to get a deal with a UK aggregator. Thus, he now had two aggregators and one operator taking a slice of revenue! Leaving him with very little. A sorry state of affairs. Surely, there must be a way to create and distribute applications globally i.e. you write for the browser and anyone who uses that browser can download and run your application
  • Mobile operators often argue that they handle billing and location services etc. That’s fine – but let’s first worry about getting the numbers. Also, billing comes at a cost and there may be better billing mechanisms on the web.

Summary
To recap, mobile applications are primarily consumer focused. They need critical mass. Currently, the market is fragmented and the current commercial model is broken. AJAX offers a potentially better solution in comparison to the incumbents (Java ME and XHTML) due to a combination of fewer potential choke points because of its distribution mechanism. The economic models do not favor Java ME and AJAX offers a superior user experience to XHTML. It has the support of the developer community.

Finally, note that I say AJAX will be ‘preferred’ model and not the ‘only’ model. I don’t expect AJAX to replace either Java ME or XHTML.

For a daily dose of Ajit Jaokar, readers might like to visit www.futuretext.com.

More Stories By Ajit Jaokar

Ajit Jaokar is the author of the book 'Mobile Web 2.0' and is also a member of the Web2.0 workgroup. Currently, he plays an advisory role to a number of mobile start-ups in the UK and Scandinavia. He also works with the government and trade missions of a number of countries including South Korea and Ireland. He is a regular speaker at SYS-CON events including AJAXWorld Conference & Expo.

Comments (20)

Share your thoughts on this story.

Add your comment
You must be signed in to add a comment. Sign-in | Register

In accordance with our Comment Policy, we encourage comments that are on topic, relevant and to-the-point. We will remove comments that include profanity, personal attacks, racial slurs, threats of violence, or other inappropriate material that violates our Terms and Conditions, and will block users who make repeated violations. We ask all readers to expect diversity of opinion and to treat one another with dignity and respect.


@ThingsExpo Stories
SYS-CON Events announced today that AgilePoint, the leading provider of Microsoft-centric Business Process Management software, will exhibit at SYS-CON's 2nd International @ThingsExpo which will take place on November 4–6, 2014, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA. AgilePoint is the leading provider of Microsoft-based Business Process Management (BPM) software products, has 1,300+ on-premise and cloud deployments in 25+ countries and provides the same advanced BPM feature set as J2EE vendors like IBM and Appian for the Microsoft .NET native environment. AgilePoint customer...
The Internet of Things (IoT) promises to evolve the way the world does business; however, understanding how to apply it to your company can be a mystery. Most people struggle with understanding the potential business uses or tend to get caught up in the technology, resulting in solutions that fail to meet even minimum business goals. In his session at Internet of @ThingsExpo, Jesse Shiah, CEO / President / Co-Founder of AgilePoint Inc., will show what is needed to leverage the IoT to transform your business. He will discuss opportunities and challenges ahead for the IoT from a market and tec...
SYS-CON Events announced today that Utimaco will exhibit at SYS-CON's 15th International Cloud Expo®, which will take place on November 4–6, 2014, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA. Utimaco is a leading manufacturer of hardware based security solutions that provide the root of trust to keep cryptographic keys safe, secure critical digital infrastructures and protect high value data assets. Only Utimaco delivers a general-purpose hardware security module (HSM) as a customizable platform to easily integrate into existing software solutions, embed business logic and build s...
One of the biggest challenges when developing connected devices is identifying user value and delivering it through successful user experiences. In his session at Internet of @ThingsExpo, Mike Kuniavsky, Principal Scientist, Innovation Services at PARC, will describe an IoT-specific approach to user experience design that combines approaches from interaction design, industrial design and service design to create experiences that go beyond simple connected gadgets to create lasting, multi-device experiences grounded in people’s real needs and desires.
SYS-CON Events announced today that TeleStax, the main sponsor of Mobicents, will exhibit at Internet of @ThingsExpo, which will take place on November 4–6, 2014, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA. TeleStax provides Open Source Communications software and services that facilitate the shift from legacy SS7 based IN networks to IP based LTE and IMS networks hosted on private (on-premise), hybrid or public clouds. TeleStax products include Restcomm, JSLEE, SMSC Gateway, USSD Gateway, SS7 Resource Adaptors, SIP Servlets, Rich Multimedia Services, Presence Services/RCS, Diame...
Samsung VP Jacopo Lenzi, who headed the company's recent SmartThings acquisition under the auspices of Samsung's Open Innovaction Center (OIC), answered a few questions we had about the deal. This interview was in conjunction with our interview with SmartThings CEO Alex Hawkinson. IoT Journal: SmartThings was developed in an open, standards-agnostic platform, and will now be part of Samsung's Open Innovation Center. Can you elaborate on your commitment to keep the platform open? Jacopo Lenzi: Samsung recognizes that true, accelerated innovation cannot be driven from one source, but requires a...
The Internet of Things will greatly expand the opportunities for data collection and new business models driven off of that data. In her session at Internet of @ThingsExpo, Esmeralda Swartz, CMO of MetraTech, will discuss how for this to be effective you not only need to have infrastructure and operational models capable of utilizing this new phenomenon, but increasingly service providers will need to convince a skeptical public to participate. Get ready to show them the money! Speaker Bio: Esmeralda Swartz, CMO of MetraTech, has spent 16 years as a marketing, product management, and busin...
Things are being built upon cloud foundations to transform organizations. This CEO Power Panel at 15th Cloud Expo, moderated by Roger Strukhoff, Cloud Expo and @ThingsExpo conference chair, will address the big issues involving these technologies and, more important, the results they will achieve. How important are public, private, and hybrid cloud to the enterprise? How does one define Big Data? And how is the IoT tying all this together?
We certainly live in interesting technological times. And no more interesting than the current competing IoT standards for connectivity. Various standards bodies, approaches, and ecosystems are vying for mindshare and positioning for a competitive edge. It is clear that when the dust settles, we will have new protocols, evolved protocols, that will change the way we interact with devices and infrastructure. We will also have evolved web protocols, like HTTP/2, that will be changing the very core of our infrastructures. At the same time, we have old approaches made new again like micro-services...
SYS-CON Events announces a new pavilion on the Cloud Expo floor where WebRTC converges with the Internet of Things. Pavilion will showcase WebRTC and the Internet of Things. The Internet of Things (IoT) is the most profound change in personal and enterprise IT since the creation of the Worldwide Web more than 20 years ago. All major researchers estimate there will be tens of billions devices--computers, smartphones, tablets, and sensors – connected to the Internet by 2020. This number will continue to grow at a rapid pace for the next several decades.
The only place to be June 9-11 is Cloud Expo & @ThingsExpo 2015 East at the Javits Center in New York City. Join us there as delegates from all over the world come to listen to and engage with speakers & sponsors from the leading Cloud Computing, IoT & Big Data companies. Cloud Expo & @ThingsExpo are the leading events covering the booming market of Cloud Computing, IoT & Big Data for the enterprise. Speakers from all over the world will be hand-picked for their ability to explore the economic strategies that utility/cloud computing provides. Whether public, private, or in a hybrid form, clo...
SYS-CON Events announced today that Gridstore™, the leader in software-defined storage (SDS) purpose-built for Windows Servers and Hyper-V, will exhibit at SYS-CON's 15th International Cloud Expo®, which will take place on November 4–6, 2014, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA. Gridstore™ is the leader in software-defined storage purpose built for virtualization that is designed to accelerate applications in virtualized environments. Using its patented Server-Side Virtual Controller™ Technology (SVCT) to eliminate the I/O blender effect and accelerate applications Gridsto...
SYS-CON Events announced today that Red Hat, the world's leading provider of open source solutions, will exhibit at Internet of @ThingsExpo, which will take place on November 4–6, 2014, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA. Red Hat is the world's leading provider of open source software solutions, using a community-powered approach to reliable and high-performing cloud, Linux, middleware, storage and virtualization technologies. Red Hat also offers award-winning support, training, and consulting services. As the connective hub in a global network of enterprises, partners, a...
As the Internet of Things unfolds, mobile and wearable devices are blurring the line between physical and digital, integrating ever more closely with our interests, our routines, our daily lives. Contextual computing and smart, sensor-equipped spaces bring the potential to walk through a world that recognizes us and responds accordingly. We become continuous transmitters and receivers of data. In his session at Internet of @ThingsExpo, Andrew Bolwell, Director of Innovation for HP’s Printing and Personal Systems Group, will discuss how key attributes of mobile technology – touch input, senso...
The Internet of Things (IoT) is making everything it touches smarter – smart devices, smart cars and smart cities. And lucky us, we’re just beginning to reap the benefits as we work toward a networked society. However, this technology-driven innovation is impacting more than just individuals. The IoT has an environmental impact as well, which brings us to the theme of this month’s #IoTuesday Twitter chat. The ability to remove inefficiencies through connected objects is driving change throughout every sector, including waste management. BigBelly Solar, located just outside of Boston, is trans...
Connected devices and the Internet of Things are getting significant momentum in 2014. In his session at Internet of @ThingsExpo, Jim Hunter, Chief Scientist & Technology Evangelist at Greenwave Systems, will examine three key elements that together will drive mass adoption of the IoT before the end of 2015. The first element is the recent advent of robust open source protocols (like AllJoyn and WebRTC) that facilitate M2M communication. The second is broad availability of flexible, cost-effective storage designed to handle the massive surge in back-end data in a world where timely analytics...
Internet of @ThingsExpo Silicon Valley announced on Thursday its first 12 all-star speakers and sessions for its upcoming event, which will take place November 4-6, 2014, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in California. @ThingsExpo, the first and largest IoT event in the world, debuted at the Javits Center in New York City in June 10-12, 2014 with over 6,000 delegates attending the conference. Among the first 12 announced world class speakers, IBM will present two highly popular IoT sessions, which will take place November 4-6, 2014 at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, Calif...
From a software development perspective IoT is about programming "things," about connecting them with each other or integrating them with existing applications. In his session at @ThingsExpo, Yakov Fain, co-founder of Farata Systems and SuranceBay, will show you how small IoT-enabled devices from multiple manufacturers can be integrated into the workflow of an enterprise application. This is a practical demo of building a framework and components in HTML/Java/Mobile technologies to serve as a platform that can integrate new devices as they become available on the market.
SYS-CON Events announced today that O'Reilly Media has been named “Media Sponsor” of SYS-CON's 15th International Cloud Expo®, which will take place on November 4–6, 2014, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA. O'Reilly Media spreads the knowledge of innovators through its books, online services, magazines, and conferences. Since 1978, O'Reilly Media has been a chronicler and catalyst of cutting-edge development, homing in on the technology trends that really matter and spurring their adoption by amplifying "faint signals" from the alpha geeks who are creating the future. An...
SYS-CON Events announced today that Aria Systems, the recurring revenue expert, has been named "Bronze Sponsor" of SYS-CON's 15th International Cloud Expo®, which will take place on November 4-6, 2014, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA. Aria Systems helps leading businesses connect their customers with the products and services they love. Industry leaders like Pitney Bowes, Experian, AAA NCNU, VMware, HootSuite and many others choose Aria to power their recurring revenue business and deliver exceptional experiences to their customers.