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What Does the iPhone Mean for dotMobi?

A quick word of introduction: I'm James Pearce, the new dotMobi CTO. I've been working with the mobile web for over seven years now, and I'm excited about this. 2007 feels like it really could be the year that the mobile web starts to build up momentum.

A number of people have discussed the impact of Apple's iPhone announcement on the purpose of the .mobi top-level domain. For my first post, I thought it would be an intriguing topic to tackle.

In short, the iPhone can only be good for all of us — the .mobi domain included.

Firstly, the launch. Steve Jobs is the ultimate technology showman, and with his keynote, he showed that he can bring glamour, excitement, and design credibility — not to mention sheer consumer glee — to the mobile phone industry. The column inches the iPhone has garnered in a few days must surely have been a wake up call to every other handset manufacturer. Many of them have brands that you would hardly call weak, and yet the buzz from this one manufacturer about this one device has been enviable in almost all respects.

The device itself is certainly exciting, and exactly the sort of gadget you'd expect from Apple. I won't run through the lengthy specifications here ;-) but it's clearly designed with more than plain voice telephony in mind. The device appears to have a very balanced approach to its three main functions: phone, internet device and wide-screen iPod. (Indeed Jobs teased his audience by suggesting he was going to be announcing three separate products).

For all us mobile web fans, one area of particular interest is the browser. The phone runs a limited variant of Apple's desktop operating system, OS X, and hence the iPhone will be shipped with the platform's Safari browser. Jobs really played this up at the show, showing how rich web sites could be accessed, and positioning the browser's support for AJAX: "we've got Google Maps!".

But wait a second... Safari is based on the WebKit browser project. And so is the S60 browser. And the S60 browser appears on many Symbian handsets today, and has done for almost a year. Can it really be true that Steve Jobs' fully-fledged-browser-on-a-phone story is not so innovative after all?

Well, yes. I've been a fan of the S60 browser (on the Nokia N80 phone) since last spring. I've been able to access rich, complex web sites on it. And yes, I've been using Google Maps too! So a glib answer to the question about how the iPhone affects dotMobi is… that it affects it in exactly the same way as many of today's phones do.

And that way, I believe, is positive.

How so? Well, if one believes that dotMobi is only concerned about ensuring bijou web pages for limited devices, then my position may be hard to understand. Why access a lightweight .mobi site when your browser (S60, Safari, whatever) supports arbitrary, heavy-weight .com sites? (Although there's currently an easy answer to that too — at least if you're not on a flat-rate data tariff :-) )

But here's the thing. I believe .mobi is about so much more than just small, compliant markup that will reliably work on all handsets. It's also about the context of mobility: it's about a web user inferring that the provider of the site has thought through what he or she, on the move, wants to do on that site.

Or to put it another way, with an acid test: if I was on the move, was running Internet Explorer 7 or Firefox 2 on my phone, and I knew that the site I want has both .com and .mobi addresses, which would I choose?

It's easy: device and browser regardless, I still want to go to the site that targets my particular context (a human on the move). And that would be the .mobi address.

Which might suggest that the iPhone makes no difference to dotMobi! But that's not true either. Don't forget the marketing power of the Apple brand — coupled with the extent to which many anticipate they will be promoting the iPhone as a mobile web device. That will undoubtedly give the meme of accessing data services from a mobile greater and greater mass market acceptance. Everyone who thought they were simply upgrading their iPod (or just upgraded their mobile subscription to get an elegant new phone) will in fact be signing up to Apple's vision of mobile web access.

Suddenly the mobile web will be default. Suddenly the mobile web will be accessible. Suddenly the mobile web will be cool.

And for that reason alone, the iPhone is great for dotMobi — and of course great for the mobile web as a whole.

Written by James Pearce, dotMobi VP of Technology

Afilias Mobile & Web Services

About Afilias Mobile & Web Services – Afilias Technologies Limited, a wholly owned subsidiary of Afilias plc, is an expert provider of mobile and web technologies that help companies to reach their customers, regardless of device, content, or context. Products include the DeviceAtlas device intelligence solution, the goMobi mobile website publishing solution and Developer tools such as mobiReadyVisit Page

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