Mobile 2.0 Event: An Interview with Daniel Appelquist

By Timothy M. O'Brien
October 29, 2008

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Mobile 2.0 is a one-day event on November 3rd, 2008 focusing on new Mobile Applications and Services, the Mobile Web and Disruptive Mobile Innovation. It is purposefully scheduled close to the Web 2.0 Summit which runs from Wednesday to Friday of the same week. The event will be held at the Grand Hyatt, San Francisco and will run from 8:30am to 6:00pm with a reception at the hotel afterward. Registration for the event is $249. For more information, see the Mobile 2.0 Event Site.

Correction (12:32 PM Central): An previous version of this article stated incorrectly that Mitchell Baker and Jay Sullivan from Mozilla would be attending this event. This is incorrect, only Jay Sullivan, VP of Mobile for Mozilla will be attending this event.

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I recently spoke with one of the members of the Mobile 2.0 Organizing Committee and author of Mobile Internet for Dummies (Wiley), Daniel Appelquist. Appelquist is a Senior Technology Strategist at Vodafone Group and a very active participant in the W3C focusing on Mobile Web and open standards for the next generation of Mobile applications. While the world's developer energy is currently focused on iPhone application development, Appelquist sees real promise in the open standards that will enable mobile web applications, and Daniel isn't the only one who thinks that Web development using open standards should be the emphasis of mobile application development. Here's a quote from one of the speakers at the Mobile 2.0 event, Mozilla's VP for Mobile, Jay Sullivan from his blog:

"At the end of 2010 we will be on the right path if Web development using open standards has become a strong alternative to native application development for mobile devices. This will enable the most innovation by developers and the most choice for mobile phone users."

No doubt Jay Sullivan of Mozilla will discuss Mozilla's 2010 mobile goals at the Mobile 2.0 event.

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Interview with Event Chair, Daniel Appelquist

Tim O'Brien: What can I expect from this conference? How big is the conference? How are you promoting the event?

Daniel Appelquist: We're expecting anywhere between 250 and 350 participants this year, and we've found that to be a good number. We don't have any marketing budget. It's a completely grass-roots event, and it isn't being directly funded by anyone's employer. We're just promoting it by sending email to people, putting it on blogs, putting it in our own blogs, getting people to write about it and get twittering about it; basically any promotion mechanism we can find. Then we also have some good sponsors. This year we have Forum Nokia. We're in partnership with Carolyn Lewko from Wireless Industry Partnership, so she's helping us to promote it, as well.

We're certainly trying to attract developers this year, and while we've got VC's at our events, we're planning a Builder Track, more geared towards developers and designers and user experience specialists. We have some good tutorials on Nokia Web Run-Time and Google Gears Mobile and topics like that.

TO: One of the things that I wonder about conferences, "is it going to be appropriate?" or "am I going to be surrounded by a bunch of advertising executives spewing technology nonsense?". Is it going to be a bunch of people who don't actually know technology sitting around talking how we can proactively leverage each other's mobile synergies?

DA: No. The idea is that it would be the antithesis of that, right? First of all, we have people that really know what they're talking about. We don't have to put big names in our - we're not beholden to corporate interests, and we don't have any kind of agenda except to put on a really good event with a lot of good information. We've had such good feedback from our previous events.

TO: You are organizing the event, give us a sense of your own background.

DA: I moved to the London about eight years ago after having been the Director of Content Management for TheStreet.com. In London, I was CTO for TheStreet.co.uk. Then I helped to start a consultancy in London that didn't do too well because it was during the dot-com bust, and that didn't work out obviously. After that I went to Vodafone; initially, I was a Development Manager. More recently, or since 2003, I've been doing W3C stuff, so chairing working groups, technical writing, editing technical standards. I've been with Vodaphone for a few years now, and I've been focused on Mobile Web and Mobile applications for the last eight years.

TO: What are the specific things you've been doing at the W3C? Chair working groups?

DA: I've been chairing this group called The Mobile Web Best Practices Working Group, where we've been working on stuff like the Mobile Web Best Practices, which is a W3C recommendation about building mobile websites. We've got something called mobileOK, which is a standard for a set of rules for checking your mobile website to see if it's mobile-friendly, and other things like that. I was also a part of the working group that created a standard called WICD (the Web Integration Compound Document) which is a set of combination rules between XHTML and SVG. It's specifically for mobile devices. I've also just been the Vodafone representative for the W3C, so I'm on the Advisory Committee.

TO: You were involved in mobile back when I'd say a lot of people looked at the mobile space and said, "This is just ridiculous." I remember doing stuff with WML in 1999 and there was a lack of standards, high latency, low bandwidth, and a dearth of good ideas. In 1999 everyone was trying to create yet another WML-based stock quote application. Fast forward a few years, and mobile development is finally back on the radar. It's hit people immediately, "Oh, look at the iPhone." "Look at the new phones from Nokia." "Look at the new phones from all the other people. This stuff is actually real"

DA: Yeah, yeah, and you're getting more and more sophisticated handsets and browsers into the market. Back when they launched WAP they made a huge marketing mistake about calling it the mobile Internet. It really wasn't, and also the devices and the browsers just weren't up to the testing. Now you've got everybody coming into the market for mobile web. You've got Apple in there in a big. You've got Google in there in a big way. Mozilla is in there. Mozilla's gonna be at the conference, also, talking about what they're doing with Firefox Mobile.

TO: Who is going to be at the conference from Mozilla?

DA: Jay Sullivan from the Mozilla Corporation is going to be there.

DA: Then Nokia is also gonna be there again talking about their Web Run-Time stuff. This stuff I've been working on recently is, "Where do we go with the next level of the mobile web?" That is web applications like AJAX applications on mobile that have access to your device capabilities, like the ability to take a picture or the ability to get your location from the GPS.

TO: Are you talking about the ability to use something like Google Gears, or are you talking about something that would be in competition to Google Gears? Are you competing with Google?

DA: Am I personally? No, because Google Gears is part of Gears Mobile. Okay, so to take the specific thing about location, which is one of the features of Gears Mobile, they have submitted that spec to W3C. Vodafone will be co-chairing the Geolocation Working Group in W3C with Google to help develop that spec and turn it into a real W3C recommendation, and then make sure that it gets wide adoption in whatever browsers are out there, so I'm not in competition with Google. I think that Gears Mobile is fantastic technology. My preference is to see good stuff like that standardized and then implemented across different browsers, and we already have Mozilla in that working group, as well, and Opera. Opera is pretty big in the mobile space.

TO: You've talked about Mozilla and you've talked about Google. What about Microsoft? What can you tell me about, for someone who doesn't know about mobile, what is the competitive landscape in the mobile space and how does it play out?

DA: It's very highly - well, I guess you probably get the view that most of my thinking around mobile development is centered around browser and Web Run-Time technology, like widget containers.

TO: So stuff like the OpenSocial stuff that Google's coming out with and stuff like that?

DA: Sure. Well, that's more network API's. That's also important for creating mashups and that kind of thing, and I think that the - where does Microsoft stand today? Well, I think that Microsoft has lagged behind to a certain degree on that area. They're getting up to speed. However, their Mobile IE platform is one of the more open ones. It's one of the few mobile browsers that you can install plug-ins into, for instance, and that's why Gears Mobile's works. It's deployed on Mobile IE. I would say in general the mobile landscape is very fragmented right now. There are a lot more companies in there, especially in the browser space. When you think about browsers on the desktop you think about IE, Firefox, Safari, and maybe Opera if you like that. In the mobile space we've got Openwave. We've got Opera in there in a big way. You've got Nokia; they're playing a big role. You've got Apple, sure, but you've also got other - you've got Google. You've got other WebKit based browsers that are out there. Every one of the phone manufacturers has a team implementing some kind of WebKit browser. You've got -

TO: Clearly for people who are interested in doing stuff on mobile devices I think a lot of people probably woke up a few months ago and said, "Wait a minute. I need to stop ignoring this. This is actually real, and it's actually happening. Chances are that I'm not going to be constrained to a laptop or a desktop five years from now. I'll probably be building either an iPhone application or something on mobile tablet," so people need to come to this conference to learn about the vocabulary that they're not really familiar with.

DA: Absolutely. That's right, and so to hear from the people who have been doing it for years and who know something because otherwise they're gonna be making the same mistakes that these people already made. Coming onto the user-experience and design stuff we've got Kelly Goto, Brian Fling, and Barbara Ballard; people who have been doing mobile user experience in the mobile web space for years now who have a lot of experience to share. They're going to all be on a panel together talking about that. The other opportunity at the conference is to come and meet these people and talk to them because this is not some massively produced conference where most people are ushered onto stage and then off and into the Green Room or something. We don't have a Green Room.

TO: How much is the conference?

DA: It's $249.00. Very affordable, when you compare it to the cost of other professional conferences. Basically we're running it to cover cost, and yes we also have sponsorship. We're hoping to make a little bit of money that we're gonna plow back into the next event, but in general we are doing to cover costs.

TO: It's a whole day?

DA: Yes, it's a whole day, and there's a reception at the end of the day with free beer.

TO: Free beer? What kind of beer?

DA: I don't know, but I'm gonna make sure it's good beer. Well, it depends on how many more registrations we get, actually. It could be Budweiser. It could be Anchor Steam. We'll see.

TO: What has made the difference? What's the inflection point been in the last year? Why is it that I'm paying attention to mobile? Is it Apple, and if so is that a good thing?

DA: Apple is one part of the story certainly. Nokia came out with really good browsers on their devices about a year before Apple did. Apple then came out with a really sexy device that everyone paid attention to. Then you have, more recently, you've got Google coming into the fray now. I think that helps to balance things out. I think if it were a story that was only about Apple and iPhone that would be - I mean, I love Apple. I have an iPhone, but frankly that would be a little bit boring. Apple has woken up the rest of the industry about the possibilities on mobile, certainly stuff like the Apple iPhone and App Store, for instance. They've really made a huge go at it and popularized it and maybe brought it into the mainstream, and that's part of the story. Nokia was already doing it. Obviously it's already been in Asia; they've been doing mobile web for ages and ages, so it was inevitable that it was gonna come over here at some point.

TO: Why did it work in Asia and not, say, over in the U.S.?

DA: I think that's a bigger question than I can really answer, but partially it has to do with NTT DOCOMO in Japan, in particular, set up a really - basically the dominant player there. They set up their own little mini ecosystem to do i-mode, and it was just really successful at what it did. What's interesting is that even in Japan I hear that people are embracing more full web browser devices now and actually the iPhone might not be as popular over there because people have already had large-screen devices. They put browsers on them, but -

TO: Does Flash play a larger role on Mobile in Asia? Why?

DA: I think it does. They have a kind-of closed content ecosystem over there, so it's easier for them to be able to the Flash player. There are a lot of reasons why Adobe hasn't been very popular or very successful with Flash, especially in Europe where I have more experience on it simply because people want to - European operators want to leverage open standards, not closed ecosystems.

TO: If you're a developer, and you're reading something by Adobe that says, "Flash is perfectly positioned as the platform for mobile development," your answer to that would be?

DA: I don't think it's true. I don't think you get the reach as a developer with mobile Flash. Sorry, but that's just my view. Certainly that's reflected in the program of the event, by the way. If you come to this event expecting to hear anything about mobile Flash I don't think we have very much about it. Not that it's not a technology that's in play, but it's just not something - it's not open. It doesn't allow development of services very easily. It's not in deployment by individuals or by users. Another big element of the Mobile 2.0 Conference is that we're about empowering individuals, empowering small developers. What are the technologies that you can pick up and use right now without having to go get a meeting with somebody at Verizon or Sprint or something like that? Right now, you're looking at the mobile web. Actually, the mobile web on iPhone is much more empowering than the App Store. You can't sell mobile web content in the same way that you can sell mobile apps, but if you look at a lot of the mobile apps that are on the iPhone App Store like Facebook, for instance, that's free. Facebook also has an iphone.facebook.com mobile web site for iPhone, which you don't have to download and it works pretty well. It doesn't have access to the camera because you can't get access to the camera right now from within the browser, but once you're able to do more within the browser, the need to write a lot of these native applications is going to go away and you're gonna see the mobile web take over. That's not to say, by the way, that this conference is solely focusing on the mobile web. It's just from a developer perspective for the Builder Track we have chosen to focus on mobile web technologies.

TO: Right, so you think that a developer creating a mobile application today shouldn't be focusing on iPhone development. They should be focused on the Mobile Web - that is the future?

DA: Time and again I've heard from start-ups, that have started off trying to write a Java app, or something like that, that they abandoned that and when they went to mobile web they found that they immediately had way more customers. To a certain extent at the expense of some of the features that you can get with a native app, but again some of the technologies that we're going to be talking about at Mobile 2.0 like Nokia Web Run-Time environment that allows you access from the JavaScript player into some of the device capabilities.


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