Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Mobile Mashups: Breaking Out of the Pocket

What is a Mashup?

Mashup is a very general term for an application that incorporates realtime data and services (APIs) from 3rd party sources over the Internet. A Mashup is often very focused and task oriented.

Although the browser is the most accessible platform for developing and distributing a Mashup it is by no means the only platform, and arguably not always the most appropriate from an end-user perspective. mWorks, for example, provides a platform for creating mashups that run as an application on your mobile phone, Apple Widgets and Yahoo! Konfabulator both provide a platform for creating a mashups that run as Widgets on your desktop, and the list goes on. The important thing to remember about a Mashup is that it is an application that leverages realtime data and / or services accessed over the Internet. The delivery mechanism for the Mashup is completely independent. In fact, many mashups are available in mobile, widget, and browser versions.

The mobile browser is NOT the only platform “open” to the developer. You may be surprised to find out that you could create a mashup using SMS and Java in addition to the browser on a device.

Things are getting really interesting in the mobile development field.

Five years ago when you talked about application development you were most likely targeting web browsers, desktop computers, game platforms or very limited phone OS’s. On each of those platforms the vast majority of the input was via the user’s fingertips — text, buttons and joysticks.

Today’s devices obviously offer so much more. Touch, GPS, compasses, accelerometers, and proximity detection to name just a few previously unavailable input modes. This has made possible a raft of new types of applications.

The idea that the mobile phone should be a one-stop shop of digital services is universally shared in Asia. There's also a convergence of features among cell phones, personal digital assistants, cameras, MP3 players, and high-speed wireless networks that's turning mobile phones into all-purpose digital devices.

But the combination of disparate features into one device isn't just a top-down phenomenon pushed by carriers and manufacturers. Consumers often take the lead, playing with user-generated content in myriad ways. They can seamlessly "mash up" or combine, say, music or video from various sources and integrate applications from their personal computers and printers with their handsets.

The feature-power of mobile phones and the creative melding of content and software applications are bound to increase as 3G mobile handsets and ever-speedier wireless networks continue to be rolled out across the region.

Korean handset maker LG Electronics is also trying to export high-end multimedia mobile phones to the U.S., where the mashup fad is also entrenched, though more PC-based. LG's Fusic mobile phone delivers an array of services over Sprint's high-speed network. Subscribers can access Sprint TV and Sirius Satellite adio via the handset, buy songs, and copy tunes from one handset to another—or even transfer music collections to a car radio or personal computer.

Japan's mashup scene is more dominated by small Web 2.0 venture businesses than programming-savvy individuals. A company called DigitalStreet has come up with software filters that let mobile-phone users view Web pages that would normally only be accessible from a PC. In the past, businesses had to direct cell-phone users to special Web sites that were pared-down versions of the actual site, with few graphics, loads of text, and limited content.

The new programs aren't limited to Web browsers. For instance, a program called Fileseek lets you check out the latest YouTube videos from your cell phone. I see real potential as we move forward with the synergy and integration between mobile social media and enterprise applications. I am reminded how much Web 2.0 trends will drive mobile technology. When I originally started to design mMashups I had it in my mind to create a platform that would allow me to pull together interesting web services in a way that was intuitive and useful on any mobile device. Today, web services are now passé and terms like Ajax and Mashup are gaining in popularity; but this does not change the fundamental technology and concepts upon which mMashups was originally designed.

My research (with help from co-workers Viktor Stephen and Amit Kapur), has turned up an interesting list of services and sources of services. Amit pointed me to which has an impressive list of XML APIs for creating mashups. Technorati and Feedburner also have some interesting APIs for navigating and browsing blogs and feeds. Sites like Flickr and TextAmerica have some interesting API’s for accessing a wealth of image content, and Google and Yahoo both have API’s for a variety of things. In addition there are some UDDI registries for for premium Web Services such as StrikeIron and XMethods.

Mobile Mashups
sounds like a really interesting niche to me.

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