Wednesday, May 10, 2006

WAP client or mobile widget?

The talk before mine at MobileMonday Global Summit was given by Christian Lindholm, a VP in Mobile at Yahoo. I met Christian a year ago in Helsinki for the first time, when he was still working at Nokia on Lifeblog (a very cool product, using SyncML). He then moved to Yahoo and is coming to live in the Bay Area, the coolest place on earth when the weather is good.
His talk was full of Yahoo!, but still interesting. In particular, he outlined Yahoo plans to bring to mobile phones the Soccer World Cup (the most watched sport event on the planet). They are going to have a WAP site and a J2ME app. The Java app will include live stream of results, but looked less rich in content. It is targeted to the hard-core fan.
As you might know, at Funambol we built a mobile World Cup application in 2002. Built for Palm OS, it allowed people to get updates on scores and standings, while HotSyncing. It was a phenomenal success and our first large deployment of Sync4j. It was a fat client, obviously. Today, I would call it a mobile widget.
I find the decision of Yahoo to build a WAP site quite interesting. They have a fat client (collection of widgets) for the Yahoo experience, but they still decided to go with WAP in this case. We all know browsing on a mobile phone sucks. However, when you have a ton of content ready, going with WAP makes your life much easier. You can transcode or use mobile CSS. I suspect this was their main reason (the other one was serving the non-J2ME market, which is still a good chunk of the market, but they could have chosen to build separate clients for Brew, Windows Mobile and PalmOS).
They built a mobile widget with J2ME. I would bet the Funambol server I am delivering to Alfresco that the user experience on that client will be much better. Real time updates being one reason. Local storage of results, instead of download at every click, being the other reason. Instant access to content, without the need of downloading it from the web. However, they might not have spent the necessary amount of time to build a proper app, since it is not an easy task.
The tradeoff between a WAP client or a mobile widget is clear. One is easy to develop, only requires to adapt existing web content easily but delivers a horrible user experience. The other one is harder to develop, requires a way to import pieces of existing web content (easy to do, if the web content is well designed...) but can deliver a great user experience.
My feeling is that company will try to go for the easy route. We will have tons of seldom-used mobile web content. At the end, the companies that will make it in mobile will be the ones that will take the time to build widgets and deliver a great experience (not WAP crap). Google and Yahoo started big in this category. All the others will follow. Stay tuned, it is going to happen fast.