Handset manufacturers can't resist either. They get the spec from the standards body that they are members of, but they invariably "tweak" it a little so that it's optimized for their own design. Suddenly, the standard is broken and there are two versions. It happens again and again. Each new standard that promises to solve the fragmentation problem; each new consortium; each new working group; each new standards body falls victim to the capitalistic tendencies of its members. Call it the great paradox, call it innovation, call it plain old greed--I don't think it's ever going away.
Jun 2000: The Wireless Application Protocol is providing corporate and commercial developers with a standard framework for building browser applications for handheld devices, extending the write-once, run-anywhere model for Web development to mobile users ... For businesses, WAP means there is now a global standard for developing mobile applications. The write-once, run-anywhere model of Web application development is now extended to any cell phone, handheld device, pager, or other properly connected device with a WAP browser. With estimates of more than 1 billion mobile subscribers by 2003, that's a compelling reach.--InformationWeek
Feb 2003: According to Eric Chu, Sun's Group Manager for J2ME Platforms, "If you look at the handset marketplace, one of the reasons it is thriving with over 400 million handsets (75 million of which are Java-enabled) is because of the manufacturers' ability to differentiate the offerings .... Even Sun's chief engineer Rob Gingell admitted to me during my interview that the "anywhere" part of "write once run anywhere" is not exactly true. According to Chu, "We recognised the need to minimise the variances from one device to the next. That's why we formed JSR 185 [another working group within the JCP...--ZDNet
Flash Lite? Android? LiMo? Bondi? JIL? As an industry, we try and try and try to solve this problem. Yet, the great irony is that the companies who financially support the initiatives themselves have little to gain from their adoption. They do adopt, but on their own terms. At some point, it always seems that they break from the group that gave them the credibility to assert a standard.
I have a message to all mobile content developers and publishers: Don't fight it!
That's right, don't fight it, embrace it! The solution to device fragmentation is not just one standards body, working group, or bright idea away from reality. I submit to you that we will always have it because to not have it means the "commodization" of mobile phone service. There's too much at stake for the companies that spend billions building and maintaining wireless networks to let that happen.
I have three strategies for you to consider that convert the problem of device fragmentation into an asset for your company.
1. Be the master of broad device support. If you're smart enough to figure out how to publish mobile content across a broad spectrum of divergent devices and carriers, you're in an elite league and you can profit from this expertise. Brands that want to create apps that engage customers soon discover that there's life beyond iPhone, and face the daunting challenge of extending their experience to other devices. You could be their solution. Consumer products companies trying to launch multi-media advertising campaigns can't achieve economies of scale unless they can hit a reasonable percentage of the installed base of handsets. They too, need a solution.
2. Go deep into a single platform of choice. Pick something and go deep in your support for it. For example, if you're into BlackBerry development across their family of devices (not easy to do, incidentally, because RIM's product line is quite diverse), use every imaginable strategy to maximize your company's investment in that technology. Sell BlackBerry apps in every storefront you can find, perform iPhone to BlackBerry conversions, create BlackBerry-optimized mobile sites, etc. Instead of being an average BlackBerry developer, be a great one and build a reputation for it.
3. Become an expert in a single UI. For example, let's say your company develops a deep technical knowledge of touchscreen interfaces. Use that knowledge across all devices that use touchscreen technology, regardless of carrier or operating system, and solve the various problems associated with human-interface adaptation to touchscreen. Your company will be able to look at any application on D-pad smartphones, for example, and know exactly what to do to make the touchscreen version compelling. This is a very complex task, especially for gaming, and there's definitely demand for it.
A few months ago, about 100 people gathered at an AT&T Mobility developer conference meeting. Much to my surprise and those around me, the speakers just came right out and said it: "Device fragmentation is here to stay...deal with it." We applauded the honesty. Many people discussed what they heard in the hallways of that conference--did they actually say that? Did you hear what I heard? But once it sank in, the idea was surprisingly liberating. It was truly inspirational. "Don't wait around for someone or something to save you. Either figure it out or go find a new industry." Transform your weaknesses into your strengths.
If you're already one of those hundreds of mobile companies that has spent years learning and growing your technical expertise in mobile platforms and standards and continues to discover new and fascinating details you can't believe you didn't know yesterday, let me just say to you that your investment is not foolhardy. You're not just one standard away from being irrelevant in mobile. Stay at it. Give users the maximum quality adventure for the unique device they decided to buy, not just a least-common-denominator/homogenized experience they'd rather forget.
Konny Zsigo is a 20-year veteran of the wireless data industry. His company, the WirelessDeveloper Agency, creates and executes mobile Web marketing campaigns to directly increase content sales and drive users to action. WDA also supports mobile publishers with North American distribution, licensing and production of mobile content (video, games, apps, ringtones, wallpapers, themes and more).