Webkit… The forest and the trees

If anyone was wondering just how important mobile Internet convergence really is, just take a look at what has happened over the course of the last 6-weeks as a result of Google I/O and the release of Android 2.2 (Froyo) and Apple’s WWDC 2010 and the release of iOS 4 and the iPhone 4. It does not require a great deal of insight to see just how important mobile devices and the operating systems that power them have become. Just a few short years ago the concept of mobile operating systems could not have been farther from the consciousness of mainstream users. Sure, phones became “smartphones” when the PalmOS found it’s way into a phone many years ago, and Windows, Symbian, Blackberry, etc. have been running on phones for a very long time.

But look what’s happened in the last 3-years since Apple launched the original iPhone:

  1. Blackberry, once the undisputed leader and trendsetting “smartphone” maker is quickly become irrelevant.
  2. Microsoft, once the undisputed leader of all-things-digital appears to have become completely irrelevant in the mobile space.
  3. Google, not even a teenager, has created the Android mobile operating system which is demonstrating a level of adoption that is unprecedented in history.
  4. Apple has become the world’s most valuable technology company (from a market capitalization perspective) and, in conjunction with Google, has completely changed the entire landscape with respect to mobile computing.

While this is all great trivia, I think most people are currently missing the really important story. Sure, great devices (hardware) are essential for the Internet to truly become mobile, and great operating systems are required to power these clever new devices. However, upon closer inspection I have concluded the single most important component of the current mobility revolution is not iOS (iPhone OS) or Android, but is Webkit.

Webkit is the underlying engine that powers the web browsers from BOTH Google (Chrome) and Apple (Safari), and not just on the desktop, but specifically on their respective mobile platforms. Based on this fact, it seems clear to me that developing native iOS or Android applications should not be the goal/objective for the vast majority of organizations. Of course there are some classes of applications, specifically graphic intensive games, that require “native” power. However, most great applications and utilities are not games, but are productivity enhancers. In almost all cases, organizations would be much better served focusing the majority of their attention on the function of the application(s) and implement using HTML5 tools. Thanks to the power of HTML5, CSS3, and JavaScript it is now possible to create “web” applications that are easily 90% as fast, powerful, functional, and attractive as their native counterparts. This approach, going web vs. native, facilitates platform independence as opposed to platform dependence (lock-in).

Forgive me iOS (Apple) and Android (Google), but it’s Webkit that’s really the key to everyone’s success.

Where technology & philosophy intersect!

I just finished watching Steve Job’s WWDC 2010 keynote address. It sure is a great to be in the business of technology at this time in history. How amazing is it that we have 2 of the most powerful, interesting, creative, cutting edge companies the world has ever seen (Apple & Google) both driving as hard as possible to advance the art & science of mobility and the Internet?

For me, this picture says it all..

As a philosopher come technologist this picture will be forever burned into my consciousness. I, too, believe the greatest products do not come, simply, from the greatest engineers. Great products exist at the cross roads between brilliant technological innovation and the human beings that are destined to use the technology.

Companies that forget the importance of the “liberal arts” in the continuum of technological advancement do so at their own peril.