Experts: Don't try to copy Web 2.0 directly to phones

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Although the mobile industry is keen to duplicate the success of Web 2.0 applications on the Internet, the wholesale transfer of that new approach over to the mobile world won't work, experts said.

"Beware of naive copying of PC services," said David Wood, executive vice president of research for Symbian Ltd. "Some don't translate." He was speaking Wednesday at the Symbian Smartphone Show in London.

Wood and others said that the inherent constraints of mobile phones and networks mean that many Web 2.0 services won't work well without some changes to accommodate those limitations. Web 2.0 describes a new generation of Web sites, many that enable user-generated content or combine data from various sources.

He used the example of Google Maps, an application initially designed for the PC. Because the application is built on Ajax, like many other Web 2.0 services, it pushes data out to the client device in order to speed up future user requests. On a mobile phone, that process drains battery life, eats up limited memory and results in potentially very high data-access charges. Google Inc. has introduced a version of the program designed for mobile phones that eliminates some of that overhead, improving the mobile user experience.

One way that Web 2.0 companies can similarly adjust their services for mobile devices is by relying less on browser-based applications and more on small software clients that users can download onto their phones. "The browser will fade into the background," said Wood.

ShoZu is an example of a service specifically designed for mobile users that employs a client on phones to help users upload photos and videos to the Web. Customers can also use ShoZu to manage their Flickr pages, by adding comments to photos via their phones, for example.

Andy Tiller, chief technology officer at ShoZu creator Cognima Ltd., compared using Flickr's mobile site with using ShoZu to add a comment to a photo on a Flickr page. Via the Flickr site, he spent 165 seconds and used 71.4k bits of data compared to 16 seconds and 3.25k bits of data on the ShoZu client.

Tiller acknowledged a down side to the client model. "Downloading a client is a huge barrier," he said. Smartphone users have largely been reluctant to download new applications and even if they do decide to download new programs, they could soon be faced with managing a large number of applications if most mobile Web 2.0 companies rely on clients.

But right now, it's the best option, Tiller said. "If the browser and networks get better, I think we'd all be delighted to throw our clients into the bin," he said.

Wood expects to see growing interest from Web 2.0 companies in the mobile space, in part due to "intense competition" for users on the Web. But he warned application developers not to regard the smartphone as "an impoverished version of the PC."

The phone has a number of upsides that developers can take advantage of, such as the ability to add useful information to content like location data. In addition, because people tend to carry their phones with them almost everywhere, the phone, with a camera, is available "at the point of inspiration," Wood said.

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