Over the top of the wall

7 October 2009 by Steve Blum
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Browser developers are doing their best to push apps out of the operating system. Roy Satterthwaite, vice president, Americas for Opera claimed that no one is developing native applications for desktop systems, that the market and the innovation is primarily browser based and the mobile market will go the same way. It’s an arguable point, but the argument is interesting.

Bitstream took the opportunity to launch its BOLT browser out of beta and into the mainstream. Its aim is to replicate desktop browser functionality on a mobile phone. The killer app: Mafia Wars, a Facebook-based game that pushes the limits of what mobile browsers can handle. While it was still in beta, BOLT became the mobile browser of choice for Facebook gamers, at least according to Bitstream.

Google sees significant cost advantages to the browser-based approach. Supporting multiple platforms across a deep inventory of native applications is daunting, out of the reach of even Google.

Full featured mobile browsers could be the decisive breach in mobile carriers’ walled gardens, particularly if the network neutrality concept extends its embrace to the mobile Internet.

Browser based applications, services and content can be quickly distributed across any and all platforms, to a large extent irrespective of carrier or handset manufacturer. A browser based platform is limited by its ability to access hardware resources such as cameras, GPS data, user interface and peripherals, even more so in the mobile realm than the desktop world. Satterthwaite’s answer is standards-based APIs – JIL and Bondi for example – that enable browser access to device and, potentially, carrier network resources.

On the downside, that sort of access creates massive security headaches for carriers. But it’s a headache they might well deserve. They’ve relied heavily on controlling both ends of the connection to manage their networks, a tactic that died thirty years ago in the personal computer sector. Whether the cause is the political push toward more open networks or the creative chaos of the marketplace, carriers will have to find better security solutions eventually.