Openwave’s big hello to mobile data services
Mobile data services. How much bandwidth do they need? It depends, writes Rob Bamforth of Bloor Research. If the network can use the data intelligently, the data transmitted can be small and intelligence on the mobile device can be used to render it. That's the essence of the desktop computer web server and browser model, so it's no wonder that one of the first companies to recognise this might be important to data services on mobile devices is the market leader for open WAP servers and browsers, Openwave.
In the late 90s there was a movement in the desktop-computing world, headed by Netscape, Oracle, IBM, Sun and others, to shift the desktop computer focus away from operating system and to a browser centric world supporting downloadable services. That this in the end failed, was due more to the market presence of one operating system supplier and the dominance of their application suite, than with the browser client concept itself.
It's the simplicity of the browser model that makes it interesting to less technical users. A browser is more a broader content rendering and navigation engine, rather than simply a way to view web pages, so it's understandable that Openwave is more excited about the possibilities of browsers than operating systems on mobile phones.
However it's much more than just browsers.
In the last six months, the Openwave Phone Tools version 7.0 client software has grown to include a mobile messaging client, Real Networks mobile player and a file and application manager, in addition to the mobile browser. This summer its client software sales reached the 400 million-unit mark with shipments into more than 100 million handsets since late 2002. The number of handset manufacturers using Openwave software now totals forty seven around the world as seven new customers have recently been added in Asia.
Openwave's views its client software as embedded middleware on the phone, which it terms 'phoneware'. It's not an operating system for smartphones - more a smart system for operating phones.
So why is phoneware middleware?
Well, at the 'front' Openwave offers a fully customisable user interface which produces a consistent branded look and feel across the entire handset. This branded look can be themed by operators or handset manufacturers to make it appropriate for different audiences - teen themes, business theme, and so on. No doubt there will be an aftermarket for them too, just like other forms of 'skinning'.
At the 'back' they provide support for the major open content types. There is no Openwave application programmer interface (API) to write to, content is accessed through the standards - SMS, EMS, MMS, WAP, XHTML, CSS and Java. They say there is no need for a visible operating system on a mobile phone, only a simple integrated user experience. Even the different messaging types are accessed through a single consistent messaging interface to reduce confusion.
The Phone Tools content rendering makes use of advanced graphics techniques for image opacity, transparency, zooming and panning. These techniques while once cute on desktop computers are vital to creating a compelling user experience on a small device. Openwave has applied efficient programming techniques to squeeze maximum rendering performance out of the minimum processing power available on mobile handsets.
On a mobile phone, user experience is everything. Bad experiences, system management headaches, application management, in fact most of the things everyone has to put up with on a desktop computer are intolerable on a mobile phone.
Openwave's user experience-oriented approach should ensure that phoneware fares well.