Maybe I'm missing the point, but I'm starting to think that the fascination that the mobile apps industry has with "widgets" (small Internet-connected applications) is misplaced. I'll happily confess that I haven't looked at the sector in huge depth yet, but on first sight there seem to be several weak logical connections in the whole premise. The argument seems to be go something like:
1) Phones are small with small screens
2) Therefore small applications are good, especially if they only take up a small amount of screen space
3) Phones don't have much memory, but are getting better browsers & faster/cheaper data connections
4) Therefore using some sort of central widget "engine" and UI framework makes it easier to have lots of widgets on one phone rather than lots of native applications
5) We want to sell lots of mobile advertising in future
6) Therefore having some sort of closed widget environment (but based on reasonably open standards) with built-in advertising functions gives us a great channel to the mobile user
7) Most "normal" people don't like installing native apps on phones. And developers don't like the fragmentation of platforms.
8) Therefore make a 'library' of mini-applications to enable people to search for and "discover" widgets and download them, working across lots of handsets.
But frankly, based on recent experiences, I can't see where the customer demand lies. I can see why the industry would like widgets to be adopted. But I fail to see why end users are going to be bothered.
In particular, there's a whole range of issues that are unsolved:
1) I still see no evidence that "normal" people want to "discover" stuff to download to a handset. Yes I know that umpty-million people are using iPhone app store, but they're not "normal" in a 3-billion-mobile-users sense of the word.
2) Always-on widgets are battery-killers. And given that different phones (and different networks) have different optimal methods for power-management, the whole abstraction / single-platform notion falls flat on its face. I could fry an egg on my Nokia E71 if I leave some widget stuff running in the background.
3) Based on my (admittedly limited) experience playing around with things like Widsets and Yahoo Go!, widgets are slow, clunky, and make a big song-and-dance (hey! rotating icons! wooo!) about doing basic stuff that could work perfectly well on a normal browser web page.
4) Browsers are getting *much* better. Many of the current widget tasks can be adequately performed with a decent set of bookmarks and RSS functionality, or using server-side aggregation of web services onto a single home screen.
5) Is there actually any evidence that widgets are popular on PCs? I can't remember seeing any newspaper articles about how cool they are. They're certainly not in what I'd call "the popular consciousness" in the same way that (say) Skype is, or even mobile broadband / 3G dongles. Vista's low uptake rate won't have helped either.
6) Wearing my "end user" hat, widgets appear to offer the same stuff that could be done in the browser, but with less flexibility (how do I delete that Yahoo! Entertainment default widget?) but with greater amounts of intrusive advertising. Hmm, let me think about this.
7) Widgets are at the mercy of the handset network connection manager, in dealing with intermittent coverage, use of 2G vs 3G vs WiFi, policy about data access while roaming and so on.
8) Typically there's lousy integration of widgets with the native functions of the phone - especially the dialler, the phonebook & SMS. This might get fixed with initiatives like OMTP's BONDI in the medium term.
As I said upfront, maybe I'm missing the point. I haven't really followed this area in great depth, but that also means I haven't absorbed the hype & groupthink. Or maybe this whole mobile widget thing is just another self-delusional ruse, dreamt up by the mobile apps industry to convince itself that massmarket end-users are actually interested in putting 101 bits of random software on the phones.
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