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Vodafone and China Mobile team to build mobile Web 2.0

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Vodafone and China Mobile are setting up a Joint Innovation Lab (JIL) to establish standards for Web 2.0 widgets in the hope of creating truly cross-platform mobile apps.

Mobile web browsing is something of a dead end. No matter how great your scaling technology, most websites won't work properly on the smallest screen. So operators, manufacturers, and pundits are betting that mobile widgets will be the vehicle that brings the mobile internet to the masses.

The problem is that no one is quite sure what a widget is, or what it should be allowed to do.

The basic technology is ECMAScript, with some XML for layout, which is OK for displaying information periodically updated from websites - such as news headlines or weather updates - but some companies want to see widgets doing a whole lot more.

Yesterday, Nokia launched its latest widget platform for S60, which allows interaction with a host of local resources: "For example, a weather widget can now access the user's current location via the built-in GPS... The flight tracker widget fetches the user's itinerary from the airline's website, saves it to the mobile device's calendar and sets a reminder."

But giving widgets access to all those resources opens up huge security issues, and finding standard ways of addressing those will be a central part of JILs work. This is most likely to involve some sort of application certification, and having missed the boat for signing Java applications, and native ones, the operators will want to make sure they're the ones authenticating widgets.

The two companies won't say how much money they're putting in, only that JIL will come into existence over the summer, be based in Europe, and that they're hoping everyone else in the industry will sign up soon afterwards.

Vodafone has about 200 million subscribers, while China Mobile (of whom Vodafone holds just over three per cent) is knocking 400 million, so it hardly matters if anyone else joins up - JIL will have the muscle to dictate standards to the rest of the industry if it so wishes. ®

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