Friday, 4 June 2010

Summary of Mobile Widgets

So what are Mobile Widgets. One way of describing them is "encapsulated webapps" installed on a phone. That is installed html/css and javascript files running on the phone, but not in a browser.

There are various versions of these already in existence:

  • Nokia have WRT widgets which run on all S60 phones
  • Samsung have WIZ UI widgets on all their touch phones
  • LG have similar widgets but are currently very immature
  • Vodafone through Betavine and jil.org have W3C widgets
  • Opera Widgets part of Opera Mini 5 (released in certain countries) and in Opera 10.5 (desktop versio)
I'll also exclude some things called widgets which are not widgets. Example are Android widgets; the ones part of the OS. These are not widgets at all according to my definition. They are actually applications whose UI can appear on the homescreen.

And then include other things not called widgets but call them widgets. An example of these are iPhone HTML5 installable webapps. I call these widgets even though no-one else does because they are installed html/javascript/css on the iPhone. There will more about these and how to create them in later posts.

Then there are standards for widgets and everyone is moving towards the W3C standards at different rates. Nokia used a format very similar to Apple's desktop widgets on the Mac but never implemented for the iPhone and now unlikely to be implemented by Apple. Nokia are likely to move to W3C by simply allowing their phones to accept either WRT or W3C formats since the two are very similar.

Samsung and Opera used an early version of the W3C standard to create their widgets. Opera built an Widget Manager for S60 phones and this is being used by various operators such as Vodafone, T-Mobile and Orange. However, only Vodafone is putting real effort into this. Vodafone has gone much further by starting jil.org with China Mobile and Softbank. JIL has a widget manager for Android as well as S60 and allows the installation on the Samsung H1 and M1 handsets part of the Vodafone 360 offering. JIL has recently switch on the uploading of widgets in a single format which is internally converted for use on all its associated handsets. The challenge is to write widgets which will run of the variety of handsets. It's not just a matter of different screen sizes; its a matter of different capabilities and bugs in the browser. I will be going into this in more detail in future posts.

Finally there is a standards initiative called Bondi. This is an add on to W3C widgets which allows the widgets to access more phones features such as location and the address book using a Javascript API. Nokia WRT already has all these APIs but not currently in the Bondi format. At some stage someone will be writing a translation layer between Bondi and the WRT API. Meanwhile the other manufacturers are moving towards implementation of Bondi APIs on their phones.

Future posts will go into all these aspects in further details.

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