I bought a WebOS device and went to Taiwan.
Now I understand why the Web on Mobile is a pretty big deal.
This is a pretty naïve talk about me being stuck
with a phone with no (good) Apps, and observing people in Taïwan
using their phones in a different way that Western people do.
I don't know much about the Asian market and these observations are
from a very short experience with a small group of people. Excuse
the non-scientific analysis.
I bought a HP Veer (WebOS inside) two weeks ago.
Why? Because I was curious. I wanted to know more about WebOS.
I love the hardware and the "cards" system is awesome.
Just after that, I went to Taiwan to give a couple of talks about HTML5.
My talks went well. But I have to admit I learned much more than the audience did.
How are these events related? Let me tell you.
1) I bought a WebOS device
So I got my new phone. Didn't really take the time to play with it. Took the plane.
Landed in Taiwan. Switched on my computer and got this email:
HP dropped WebOS. lol !
Whatever, I wanted to test the device and WebOS. Time to test/install the Apps I need the most, which are:
- RSS Reader
The Twitter Apps suck. There is no RSS reader synced with Google Reader. The Hackernews App crashes,
the UIs of Reddit Apps are buggy. And no TripAdvisor App.
And I knew it will not get better. HP dropped WebOS.
So what? Did I buy this phone for nothing?
2) I went to Taiwan
In the mean time, I was in Taiwan, my very first time there.
One of the very first thing you can notice (after the crazy weather) is that they all use phones and tablets.
More than us? I can't really tell. But my impression is that there was no computers anymore. Only tablets and phones.
The main difference was about the diversity.
Some Apple devices, but not that much. Most of the smartphones are Samsung and HTC phones (no surprise here),
but also a *lot* of feature phones and not-that-smart-phones (old smart phones).
And also tablets. Everywhere. Some iPads, some well-know Android tablets, and a lot of tablets I never heard about.
Opera Mini everywhere!
While Opera Mobile is a normal mobile web browser, Opera Mini is just a small client that connects
to the Opera's server and asks for an URL. Then, the Opera's servers compute the web page, and send
the already rendered web page to the device. All the browsing logic happens in Opera's servers.
Opera is big there.
I saw this girl using Opera Mini on an iPad. While I totally understand why you would use Opera on a feature phone, using Opera on an iPad looked weird to me. The stock browser is very good, why would you bother installing another browser? Well, I asked her. She didn't really manage to give me a well-argued answer. Sounded like it was a normal thing. She was surprised I was surprised.
I understand now that Opera is a risk-free browsing experience over there.
Opera is big because,
- Chinese websites work on Opera. Opera is a safe way to browse the web when you are in Asia.
Opera works for any websites, on any phones;
- they are present on feature phones;
- they are in "the places to be", talking to OEMs, and being actively present at all the web-related events. They were giving talks at COSCUP (an Open Source conference. Opera is not Open Source at all);
- Android devices are sold with Opera.
What about Apps? I really can't tell. Smartphones and tablets use Android 2.3 and Honeycomb. I saw people using Apps for games and Instant Messaging on modern smartphones. But all these feature phones, they don't really have Apps.
Native Apps are not the only way to use web services. It's just an option.
Look at Plurk. It's a famous Asian social network. I saw people using Native Apps, but also
a lot of people using the Web App. Do you use the Web Twitter client on your phone?
For sure, they use a web browser much more than I do, and they don't have this "App reflex".
Western people all use the same kind of smartphones. Android phones or iPhones. We also use
the same kind of services. Twitter, Facebook, Google. The lack of diversity in the Operating Systems
and in the Services we use made us forget that Web Browsers on phones are a crucial thing.
3) What I've learned
I realize now that I don't really use a web browser on my phone.
Really. On my Android phone, I use mostly Native Apps, and I use the browser
when I have to. I have this "App reflex":
I don't really use a browser anymore. Once I know what service I need, I download an
App and use it.
Some people can't or don't want to use Native Apps. Because their phones don't have Apps, or because there is just
no good Apps for what they want to do, or because, well, because they don't need to.
And they don't need to because the browsers have always been good enough. Thank Opera for that.
While in the Western world we were looking at Apple bringing pretty Apps in an expensive device, in the Eastern world, Opera was bringing a working web browser to all the existing devices.
Two different stories, two different behaviors. I don't say that one is better than the other.
Native Apps are easier to use and look better. Web Apps are available everywhere and can't be blocked.
4) What do I do with my WebOS phone then?
I use Web Apps now. Only Web Apps. The web browser is decent, based on Webkit.
It's been 2 weeks now, and I like it so far.
Here are some examples:
Have you heard about Hahlo? It's a web client for Twitter. It's damn good.
This is my new twitter client:
The original hackernews website doesn't look good on a mobile phone.
But someone created a mobile version of this page:
Here is my App Launcher:
What I miss,
- I don't really like the web Reddit client. On Android, I still use the Native App;
- And I didn't find any good web "Clock" App;
- At Mozilla, we use Zimbra for our webmail, but I don't really like it;
- The native Google Maps is better than the web one (on WebOS).
5) Web Apps, is it working? What can we improve?
It is working. The best example is probably Hahlo. But web developers
need to use the right technologies
(viewport, geolocation, Media Queries, localStorage, App Cache, …).
HTML5 (and CSS3, and the different APIs coming with HTML5) is pretty powerful.
But still behind Native features. Here is a couple of features I would really love to see:
I want Hahlo (my Web Twitter client) to notify me when I have a new @mention.
Firefox for mobile supports notifications
on Android. Not sure about Webkit.
Favicons are not big enough. The iPod touch icons (present in a lot of websites)
are served when you use an iPhone or an iPod. People should start using bigger icons.
See Margaret's blog post about this.
Look at the Hahlo icon here for example:
Register as content-handler
I want Web Apps to be able to declare themselves as being able to handle a type of content. Images for example. Or music. Then I would be able to have a Music player or a Gallery App that uses my local files.
And I want them to be able to be present in the "share" menu.
Custom CSS / JS
A lot of web pages are not mobile-ready yet. Or have some minor bugs that make
them unusable on my device. I want to be able to fix them, and to share these fixes.
Like for hackernews for example. Right now, I have to use another website that just
fixes the CSS.
I want something like Stylish and GreaseMonkey.
JetPack allows that for Firefox Mobile.
And I won't be against more APIs :)
At Mozilla, we are already working on a set of APIs that woud make Web Apps really
really powerful. With Google and Opera, we are also working on WebRTC to bring
Real-Time Video and P2P connections to the web.
As for Mozilla,
The Mozilla Mobile team didn't wait for me to address these issues.
After this experience, I understand better what we are doing at Mozilla:
- Building new APIs for the Web;
- Bringing a Web-App-to-Native-App mechanism in Firefox Mobile (try Firefox Aurora on Android);
- Working on this big icon issue;
- And bringing more competition with Firefox Mobile, because diversity is a good way
to make sure the web is evolving, and not getting stuck in a not-that-healthy
state, like Native Apps could be (think about the WebOS experience).
As long as you have a good browser, your device won't become a brick.