Palm Gets it Right With Mojo Developer Platform

The most exciting news out of CES 2009 was the Palm announcement of the Palm Pre, webOS, and Palm Mojo Application Framework.

Palm to my surprise has reinvented itself and gotten back into the smartphone game with the release of the sexy Palm Pre device and new webOS operating system. Early indications suggests it should be in the same consideration set as Apple iPhone, Android G1, and Blackberry Storm. Yet the most innovative news of this announcement was the new Palm Mojo Application Framework.

Only several weeks ago I was having a conversation with one of my colleagues about the double-edged sword of open native mobile platforms. While the opening up and associated app stores have created a lot of opportunities for developers, they have also required developers to learn many disparate development platforms for each and every device. Sure Android should make it simpler to port apps across supported devices, but I suspect it will go the ways of OpenSocial in that it won't bring the promise of write once\run everywhere, but instead the philosophy of learn once and then simply minimize cost of porting to anywhere.

In the desktop world we have just gone through a revolution where we have moved many apps away from native Mac, Windows, and Linux applications to a web world where we build cross-browser and cross-OS experiences. And we are continuing to encourage the revolution with even more powerful browsers like Firefox and now Google Chrome.

I am eager to skip the pain of native proprietary platform mobile client apps and jump right to a world of mobile web browser based applications with cross-device javascript libraries to provide hooks into the native operating systems. Of course the typical criticism of browser based mobile apps today is that they can't take advantage of many of the benefits of the native device, including location based services, address book, local cache and offline data access, and native UI components and gestures. Yet these are all solvable problems by simply having each of the popular platforms exposing javascript APIs for each of these components. Joe Hewitt's early work on iUI shows just how powerful the existing iPhone Safari browser already is in allowing you to recreate full fidelity iPhone native app experiences within the browser.

Palm is taking the first step in realizing this vision and releasing the Mojo Application Framework to allow developers to build application on the new webOS using the web technologies they already know: HTML5, CSS, and Javascript. This thus allows organizations to tap into their existing web assets and already vast experience in building scalable web applications. Developers can leverage the local storage capabilities of HTML5 to have offline access to data. They also have full access to gestures, transitions, and more and access to many of Palm's native device components. It even has full support for background running applications and user notifications, a common criticism of the iPhone platform.

While its too early to tell whether the Palm Pre, webOS and Mojo will take off, it is definitely a step in the right direction for mobile developer platforms. I see way too many examples of native applications on the iPhone that could be much more cheaply developed, more stable and robust, more easily maintained, and available across many more devices by simply making enhanced mobile web apps. I hope to see iPhone and Android opening up even more capabilities in their browsers through javascript APIs and making apps developed with web technologies feel like full fidelity applications on the device, just as Palm is promising to do.
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