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“Building iPhone Apps with HTML, CSS, and JavaScript” book release party at AS220

On January 20th, Jonathan Stark presented his new book “Building iPhone Apps with HTML, CSS, and JavaScript” to the Providence Geeks at our monthly dinner, hosted by AS220. Jonathan is an expert on mobile software and mobile web.

Jonathan began by saying that writing for O’Reilly is a wonderful experience. Brian Jepson, one of O’Reilly’s editors and a Providence Geek organizer, was there. Several O’Reilly people from around the country where in attendance as well.

Mobile Apps, a quick history. June 29, 2007, iPhone released. Everyone at release event goes nuts when Jobs slides to unlock the phone. “How to develop on it?” At the time it was only web apps but 9 months later Apple releases the SDK, then the App Store. 1 Billion app downloads by November 2009, 3 Billion by January 2010.

Compares to Android, Blackberry, Nokia, Palm. All are good but none are as definitive as iPhone.

Web Apps

Developing for iPhone is a complete pain in the butt. SDK is only available on Mac, Apple takes 30% of sales.

“I want my app on all these phones.” Each platform uses different languages and APIs for development. “Don’t web apps already run on all of these?”

Identifying web apps:

Is: available at a URL, uses web standards optimized for mobile.
Is Not: installed on the device, available at iTunes or other app store, no access to certain phone features: accelerometer, microphone, speakers, address book.
Can access: GPS and text SMS services.

Native apps always look better. Development complexity depends on project goals. Beta testing much easier on web apps. Load testing and distribution especially. Payments and cross-platform issues also easier on web. Native app development means sitting on hands waiting for Apple approval.

Hybrid apps – Phone Gap gives developers the best of both native and web. MIT licensed application framework will work as native app and web app. Has functionality differences such as access to camera and cosmetic differences. More people can create the mobile web.

Fragmentation – with scores of different devices, better hardware and software. “If you can build your app with HTML, CSS and Javascript, then you probably should.”

Jonathan demos his “Kilo” app at http://jonathanstark.com/kilo/ This is a Phone Gap Javascript application, can access camera etc, to demonstrate the abstraction layer.


Q – Does it (Phone Gap) store cookies?
A – Actually uses a SQL instance but similar to cookies. Makes web apps available offline.

Q – GPS access?
A – Not sure about other methods but Phone Gap does support GPS. Also can get GPS coordinates in Safari.

Q – Phone Gap as an app-bundler?
A – Yes but has approval issues.

Q – Is it open source?
A – Active development under MIT license.

Large retailers want to be on every device, much easier to target using technology like Phone Gap.

Q – Monetization model?
A – Same as other web SaaS products. Depends on market, mobile payments are still an issue.

Q – Please talk about writing for O’Reilly.
A – O’Reilly books are the best – but it’s not just the writers. The whole system including editors and interested people is amazing. The book is online for free now but also available in multiple formats. Open feedback loop like a blog system where each paragraph of the book is an entry. Constant feedback makes a better book.

Q – How does a web app work offline?
A – HTML 5 runs offline, loca storage creates persistence with the SQL databases. Check Safari settings “database” page for the Offline Application Cache – list of cachable stuff.

Jack Templin says “This is one of the most important technology titles of the year.”

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Panel Discussion: Mobile Internet, From There To Here, Nov 4, 2009, RInexus/RIEDC

Mobile Internet: From There to Here
Location: RIEDC
Panel: Jack Templin, Jonathan Stark, Anette Tonte, Joel Evans plus Brian Jepson
Jack: Whats happening, the tech, why and why you should care.
Brian Jepson: Overview. First smartphones were very simple. New ones such as G1 or iPhone are very advanced – games, Augmented Reality, etc. What has changed?
2002 – now (2009): Great user experience, 3G networks, always-on phones
Though April ’08, no Apple programming book sales at O’Reilly. Release of iPhone, Apple book sales spike. From 50 to 2500 books per week 1 year later.
Challenges: walled gardens, technology and user lock-in, spotty 3G coverage, half-assed app stores.
Google/Android and Apple “get it”.
Apps: opening iPhone, Android choice up. Unlocked phone (both cell and ability to install your software on your device), growth driven by good app stores. Brian has seen growth in other mobile programming books but iPhone is dominant in book sales.
Panel Intro:
Jack Templin, RINexus and Providence Geeks, Moderator.
Jonathan Stark, writer, strategist, book available online now. Comes to mobile from web to telecom. Platform fragmentation is awful. Write with standard tech and wait for the phones to catch up.
Anette Tonti, CEO Mofuze, Bluestreak ad server, time is now for mobile web for midsize business so that non-technical people can manage mobile sites.
Joel Evans, owned geek.com, CEO Cronk Software. Has been making mobile software for over a decade. Microsoft is not out of the mobile game yet. Cronk makes games and apps for iPhone, deep apps not broad apps. Compared to MoFuze, Cronk’s software uses the compass and other custom hardware, requires custom code.

JT – The technology, adoption rate and pricing all coming together, key moment in mobile Internet.
AT – 1000s of MoBlogs @ MoFuze, growing subscriber base of US and international businesses. $7.95/month for a mobile, hyper-local site.
JE – Apple transformed industry, Microsoft had the first app store years ago but Apple is setting the standard. Easy and fun to use, answers “What do I want to do when mobile?”

JT – “It’s time to go online.” – narrow & deep or broad & light experience?
JS – It depends on your goal.

JT – Is it possible to support rich web content broadly?
JS – international – go for SMS. Examples include Twitter, Aardvark, GOOG411.
AT – Most apps are downloaded, used twice then never touched again. Some countries have over 100% cell phone penetration (100% plus multiple phones for some). We will not end up with 1 or 2 phone platforms.

JT – Will they all become smart phones?
JE – Less turn over in some markets, Microsoft OneApp, Point-of-Sale via SMS means no need for more advanced phones, J2ME as lowest common denominator in phones means a decent base experience for everyone.

JT – What are the issues behind localization and internationalization?
AnnetteT – Self-service internationalization has led to many Indonesian blogs on Mofuze.
JonathanS – Not a solved problem, Google Wave shared operating environment provides live translation, the “Holy Grail” of telecomm.

JT – The other mobile experience in next 5 years, Augmented Reality – Layars, information and games like “mosquitos”, need better input. These show the very fast changes in mobile.  Augmented reality is awesome, becomes more useful when not looking at a device.
JE -TED, MIT talk projected computing like Sixth Sense – will it go mainstream? Yes.
JonathanS – Bluetooth headsets make you look crazy but so what?

JT – What’s in store in the next 2 years?
JE – With cloud computing, the device does not matter, only access matters. Google Apps as a an exemplary platform.
JS – GMail is “good enough” across all devices.

JT – Devices are hard enough, working with cell networks is even harder – What does RI have for connectiivity?
JE – WiMax rollout coming, iPhone 3G problems – AT&T doing a $4billion build out, Verizon LTE having problems w/ rollout, AT&T’s EDGE through 3G have had rollout issues.

JT – AT&T service in last 60 days (sept-oct) is unbelievably bad. 100% dropped calls for himself, others not much better.
JE – No connections available for iPhones in Manhattan, puts phone on old EDGE network for great connectivity. 4G is 10x speed of 3G, AT&T politics – larger area vs smaller areas – 30% dropped calls in Manhattan.
AT – feature phones as counter point to troubles with iPhone and other smartphones.

JT – RI is the #2 in landline bandwidth.
JE – Cox may go into local mobile market.

JT – will traditional web models profits port over to mobile?
AT – models have to be tweaked to work, definitely not ad banners.

JT – What is the cash potential?
AT – AdTech conference happening in early November, 2009 saw Jeep place the first $1million ad buy for mobile devices. Mobile advertising is part of multichannel plays, very early but growing.

JT – Location based ads sound great on paper. Do they work?
JE – It is the holy grail, done in 90s in Europe and Asia, the biggest stumble is privacy, now people don’t care as much about it. Approach is important, tremendous upsale potential.

JT – Prefer the anonymity of iPhone app’s servers for location services over showing location to friends on Google Latitude.
AT – Phones are 4 billion devices versus 1 billion computers.

JT – Affiliate leads? Does it work?
AT – Guarantee agencies will try it. mentions MoFuze integrating with existing ad networks.


Q – Wifi as alternative to regular cell networks? Other remediation strategies especially for current iPhone users?
JS – Verizon MyFi, creates a hotspot for several devices, monthly fee.
Brian – My MyFi has a $15/day option for lighter use.

Q – When does mobile become the dominant platform?
JS – with the Nook book reader, etc, the web will be standard on lots of devices.
JT – Does mobile/desktop distinction go away?
JE – importance of user experience.
AT – Mobile vs desktop as experience is totally different.

Q – charge per bandwidth on mobile?
JE – Sprint has great prices but loses $$$ monthly.

Q – How do we make all this come together?
JT – RINexus and Providence Geeks.

Statement – People in Africa use cell minutes as currency.

Q – What about hosted apps? Favorite apps?
Brian mentions Augmented Reality and Wikitude.
JS – Google Maps is unbelievable.
AT – Photo Exchange, micropayments using interactive media. Real Estate and other small-mid businesses using technology for advantage.
JE – Red Laser barcode scanner.
Brian – SMS4Africa, diagnosis and treatment.

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