My interest in the convergence of the mobile device (smart phone style) and the fixed device (PC style) was reawakened by the announcement of the W3C that they are looking to establish a new group called ‘The Mobile Web for Social Development’ or MW4D. Before I got to read what this was about in detail it seemed to me to be just what we could do with to sort out details and speed up the ability to use the World Wide Web on mobile devices. Personally I like to use my phone to access things I need from the internet but am frequently frustrated by various trivial aspects.
Anyway at this stage the W3C is inviting interested parties to join with the focus of trying to figure out how to address the digital divide issue. Quoting various examples of the use of mobile technologies to enable services in rural communities where there was no fixed broadband or other services the hope is to find suitable standards to speed the deployment of such services. The whole message seems to be about defining a new Web environment to suit what exists now in terms of poor quality infrastructure, not to look at how to bring the level up to allow the rural dwellers to enjoy the capabilities that others already have.

It’s hard to deny that this has got honourable intentions at a social level, though I question levelling down as I say and believe we should be striving to level up. Given the amount of action going on to build solutions in the commercial mainstream markets it’s hard not to wonder what will be the impact of this move. Will it split the development path, and will that be a good or a bad thing? In the path that this seems to be outlining then for the less developed areas price and battery consumption are going to be an issue way beyond speed of the download and sophistication of features. Look to the developed markets where speeds and features are everything, look at Apple and iPhone, as one example of setting some new expectations for consumers.
The devices and infrastructure are just one side of this; there are a lot of other players taking part in the Mobile 2.0 market, too. Cisco has just announced their latest moves to support Mobility as a full part of an enterprise’s unified collaboration structure. A new appliance engine that recognises fixed, or wireless, access in a single coherent network infrastructure. Google are just moving into presence as a distinctive additional capability for Mobile and Yahoo have spent the last few years specialising in Mobility with a whole range of services. All of this before we consider Nokia with its Widgets, or Apple with itunes, etc.
If there are any two forces that we can recognise as today’s drivers then its globalisation of resources and markets coupled with standardisation of technology. That’s the force driving PCs to become smaller for mobile use, and phones to increase in their capabilities to use software services meant for PCs. All of this could be fairly said to have been at least influenced by the ‘one’ web standard, so I am not at all sure that I like the thought of there being a ‘fast’ or ‘high end’ web and a ‘slow’ or ‘low end’ web with all that might mean. I would have thought the growing of the existing market will result in lower prices for devices and bigger markets not just for selling services, but for buying services to allow the rural poor more opportunities.
I believe that open standards have done more for our industry, and for the population at large, over the last few years than we achieved in the years before, am I right in thinking that this is the engine for helping over come rural poverty?
PS – just to even the score I really like another move by the W3C concerning setting up another group to work with governments on standardisation practices, and this seems to bring together all the right principles of uniting and creating a common environment with all the benefits that this can bring.