Will AJAX become the De Facto Mobile Application Development Standard?

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For as long as I can remember, there has been a high degree of uncertainty as to the nature of both Google and Apple’s mobile platform. There have been indications that Google would adopt a J2ME approach to mobile development. There has been little light on Apple’s approach until now.

With Apple’s announcement of its Safari port on windows and its emphasis of the Safari core as a basis of application development on the iPhone, it’s becoming obvious what approach Apple is favoring. The Windows port is one of the biggest tells, Apple’s intentions are now more obvious. Safari will be a universal virtual machine. What better way to encourage developer adoption by introducing a runtime that potentially is available in any platform. Certainly a strategy that has been executed quite effectively by Sun with its Java platform. Apple’s virtual machine for all intents and purpose is essentially Safari and its preferred language is Javascript.

What about Google’s mobile strategy? My original intuition was that they would move in the direction of J2ME. However, with the iPhone and the likelyhood that it’ll accelerate inovation in the handset market, it is now not a remote possibility that javascript innovation on a mobile phone may outpace J2ME innovation. If this happens, then it’s a toss up between J2ME and Javascript. Adding fuel to this possibility is the fact that Nokia’s Web Browser software is also based on the same core as Safari, Adobe’s Flash Lite platform is also based on Javascript and Google Gears which intends to add traditional application functionality into browser based apps.

Google is in good position to play in the two possible outcomes. With it’s GWT that currently ports to Javascript, it’s still within the realm of the possible that GWT also ports to J2ME. Just as Laszlo now ports to both Flash and DHTML and in the future J2ME, GWT may do the same. In fact, it shouldn’t be that hard, after all GWT apps are written in Java to begin with. You have to hand it to Google for always effectively employing Set-based development.

Javascript today has become the preferred platform for innovative user interface design. The interpreted approach seems to have a fundamental advantage in providing a UI that starts quickly as opposed to the compiled Java approach. Furthermore, the same reason why PHP has greater traction for websites than Java will be the same reason why we’ll see more innovative UIs in Javascript than in Java. It’s simply because people who focus more on the essential details of web or UI design aren’t the same people who focus on the elegance of a language.

It’s clear now that Javascript will be a permanent fixture in the mobile application space. The uncertainties would be how quickly will innovation happen and how capable are Javascript developers in creating universal standards that ensure interoperability across mobile devices. Java has continued to have difficulty with the latter problem and there’s no reason to believe that Javascript would have an easier achieving success.

P.S. I wanted to make a quick comment about the achilles heal of the iPhone. That is, the lack of a keyboard or even a keypad. From my own experience with the Nokia 7710, it was irritating that it was difficult to make or receive a regular phone call without having to look at the device. Expect to see one of two alternative futures, an iphone that has physical keys or a steep rise in auto accidents as a consequence of its prevalent use.

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