The Mobile Shift

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Think back to just a few years ago. Could you imagine looking at the world through a mobile lens where you manage your entire life on tiny device? Could you envision empowering your work, socialization, and the way you engage through a device no bigger than the palm of your hand? Enter the bold generation of today – the new gen-mobile enthusiasts loves their mobile apps and devices.  Meet the savvy mobile user of 2012, demanding simplicity, ease of use, and expecting a beautiful user experience.  Most apparent, the mobile user of today can’t leave the home without device in hand.  If forgotten, anxiety and panic sets in.

It’s not just individuals that crave amazing mobile experiences. Organizations (large and small) need to leverage the potential of mobile technologies, make safe solutions and measurable business impacts. Mobile now provides enterprises with an unprecedented opportunity to transform their relationships and build towards competitive advantage, even faster than was possible when Web technologies emerged. If businesses are not obsessively thinking about ROI, strategy and getting it “right”, they will lose.

Now the challenge exists:  How can organizations make the mobile shift if they are not a mobile first company?  What obstacles do they face and what standards should they use? HTML5 vs. Native?  Case in point, Facebook.

Facebook knew the new mobile age is here – that’s why they bought Instagram. But as Mark Zuckerberg recently admitted, they wasted two years committing to HTML5 for mobile, when the only way to really produce those wonderful, transformative apps that users are demanding today is via native development.

The folks at Facebook thought that because they could envision a world where mobile technologies were governed by standards and could all work smoothly together, they could make it happen. But the change is coming much too rapidly for that. Standards can’t even remotely keep up. I know, because I spent almost four years on the W3C. Standards can be created when there’s a common body of knowledge and everyone can sit down and agree on how to do something that’s fairly well understood already. But today’s world of mobility isn’t like that at all.

Naturally, we anticipate and hope that in the future we won’t be tied to specific technologies. At Appcelerator we believe very strongly in open standards, that’s why we’re open source. But we also have an obligation to our customers and the market to figure out how to design pragmatic solutions that build ROI and create value today. So we provide a roadmap, a technological solution to help companies achieve those things now, in the midst of these rapid changes. And unlike some of our competitors, we don’t believe write-once-run-anywhere is the solution. We believe write-once-and-adapt is the way to achieve those common cross-platform capabilities we all want.

In parallel with Facebook facing up to its HTML5 mistake, the developers who responded to our new Mobile Developers Survey expressed disappointment with that standard – no surprise given how nothing has really changed after a couple of years of promises that HTML5 would solve all the problems of fragmentation. The lightning pace of development is leaving the HTML5 standard behind (and in reality it’s not even a standard, just a working draft).

In the real world, when we chart our way forward in mobility we have to remember who our users are and what they want and need.  We hear from our developers and customers all day long and they share similar needs:  creative, simple, beautiful apps.

Looking towards the future, this new paradigm will infuse mobility into all kinds of machines besides the phones and tablets. Developers know that they have to think in terms of pragmatics, not philosophy, if they’re going to create the software that makes all these devices sing. And pragmatically speaking, international or governmental standards bodies don’t control the standards around which developers need to do their work today. Commercial enterprises like Apple, Google, and Microsoft do. They’re the companies that stand to gain (or lose) the most by fragmentation and differentiation. At stake for them are the trillions of dollars of market value mobility will create in the next 10 years.

Pragmatically speaking: with all the innovation, all the advantages that patents and intellectual property give companies, and the huge technology-fueled engine of economic growth charging ahead in high gear, it’s very hard to imagine that in the next decade things are just going to come together and we’ll be in that world we’ve imagined where everything works in concert upon universally accepted standards. The flip side of developers’ disappointment with HTML5 is their understanding of that brilliant, fragmented reality. They need a platform on which to create the transformative apps their users demand, and that’s exactly what we are all about: doing everything we can to help developers get the most out of those truly personal computers in all those pockets – and transform the world.