Sunday, July 8, 2007

The World's Greatest (Almost) Widget Platform! The iPhone...

The world of widgets and cell phone applications are inherently linked by a simple trait: their form factor. A small box on the screen with "just the right amount" of functionality packed in to it. The iPhone approach to the web bridges the world of widgets and mobile devices in one sexy package. Introducing a tres cool and powerful widget platform. Although there is not a full fledged API available, it is already shaking up the widget game through it's built in features such as touch screen, html tags for dialing a number, and accelerometer that developers have been able to access.

There is a lot of energy going into developing all types of widgets on web/desk/device-tops. For the most part widgets, often read only, do not need to distinguish between what platform they are being used on as long as the underlying software is compatible. The iPhone presents a platform that offers some well placed features front and center that are not necessarily compatible with any other widget platform. How do I emulate a touch screen with *two* points of contact? Use two mice?

Now I assume this is actually a problem. For me it is: I love the idea of a widget that I can use seamlessly across all platforms. If I save a feed on my desktop widget I want to be able to access that same widget with the same feed from any connected device. For me this means having the same user interface as well, or pretty close to it. maybe I use a mouse as a pointer on my desktop and touch a screen on a mobile device. If I have access to all of my information across platforms I want there to be as little friction as possible. I'm sure Apple is thinking about this with respect to their Dashboard.

Which brings us back to the iPhone: How do widget developers handle cross widget platform support when some of the important features become deeply tied to the platform. I can't 'squeeze' my screen on my desktop. It's also a bit strenuous to rotate the monitor quickly. But I want access to the same information, with the same features, across very different devices. When I looked at some of the applications developed at the iPhoneDevCamp this last Friday it was clear that most of the apps are viable on my laptop but tend to depend on iPhone features. Some more than others.

Web based services provide the data storage, retrieval, and processing. Widgets define the form factor. Platforms define what can and cannot be done when combining those two. Apple is not known for it's open nature. I don't mind if I can't change the battery on an iPhone but I hope I can least develop cross platform widgets for it.

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