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Life's a BONDI beach for widgets

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MWC Every year, widgets almost happen on mobile phones, and this year widget fans can show handsets and a route to market... nearly.

Operator body the OMTP has announced winners of its JavaScript-based widget competition, and is joyously explaining that there are now handsets that support its BONDI standard. There is a development platform too, though neither is really as complete as it first appears.

The competition winners include the usual location-based stuff: a widget to tell you which shared bicycle is nearest (they're all in Rome, which is fair enough given the location of the developer). There's also a widget for measuring lap times while jogging and one that tells you where the nearest surfing beach is.

The point of all this is to show that widgets don't have to be limited to web-based stuff, but thanks to BONDI's extensions to JavaScript, a widget can interact with phone functions too.

Widgets - mobile applications created in the language formally known as JavaScript - now have three standards to which they can conform to extend JavaScript's limited functionality: there's BONDI from the OMTP (Open Mobile Terminal Platform), web standards coming out of the W3C, and the Vodafone/China Mobile backed JIL (Joint Innovation Labs) standard.

Yesterday's announcement that operators are to create the WAC (Wholesale Applications Community) should reduce that, though we don't have much in the way of details yet. But the WAC is vital to BONDI, and widgets in general, as it presents a way for widget developers to make some money selling their creations. Or at least it should... probably, we'll have to get more details first.

Not that the market is awash with handsets supporting any of the widget standards: the OMTP has a reference implementation on Windows Mobile, and Tieto has created one for Android which is available for licence. The LiMo platform officially supports BONDI, though only a subset of the API is available. That's on the emulator, though it's considered good enough for the OMTP to call it a "BONDI development platform". Samsung's Wave handset does support BONDI, or parts of it: the only demonstrable widget uses the BONDI calendar API to show a clock, with a spot showing the next scheduled appointment.

That should improve once there are fewer standards, but consolidation is hampered by the need to work out who is allowed to authorise widgets, and how they go about doing it. One wouldn't want every JavaScript app to have access to the phone's functions, so questions about who permits what need to be resolved. It took Java Micro Edition (J2ME) more than a decade to address the same problem, and even now the solution isn't perfect.

Meanwhile, there is the equally important question of what will power Microsoft's Tile-based interface. The Tiles used in Windows Phone 7 Series look suspiciously like widgets, and all indications are that they'll be W3C compliant.

If Windows Phone 7 Series does prove popular, then the future could be bright for mobile widgets. With Microsoft's backing there should be a route to market too, assuming that anyone actually wants automatically-updating widgets on their mobile telephone. ®

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