One Web, where content from a given domain will be accessible to any device, where one version of an application works everywhere, and where mobile content dominates in as little as five years.
This is the future as sketched out at the Mobile Ajax workshop recently chaired by the W3C and the OpenAjax Alliance, where industry heavyweights like Google, Nokia and AOL came together to discuss the future of the web on the small screen.
The issues involved in making this vision a reality were broken down into a number of sections:
What is the "One Web"?
Mobile devices offer new opportunities as well as new challenges. Installed cameras are an example of the former, while challenges include the small screen, reduced memory, connectivity, and the always important ability to easily enter content via a handset.
Access to Device Capabilities
Currently, the languages of the web and the internal languages of mobile handsets are incompatible and stakeholders on both sides are proposing different solutions to the problem of device integration.
Microsoft, for instance, has its own APIs for access to device capabilities. Vodafone has its own. Opera another, and so on.
Widgets, Offline and Device-Resident
There was much discussion at the workshop about widgets which many foresee as offering the capability to launch applications from the mobile 'desktop' rather than from within the browser.
Mobile widgets will represent a second major workflow (in addition to the browser) for Mobile Ajax technologies.
Role of Server-Side Adaptation
Which problems can server-side adaptation solve? What challenges do Ajax techniques present? What new initiatives are needed?
While these are obviously critical questions, server-side adaptation issues are still largely unresolved.
What new standards efforts does the industry need?
New standard initiatives will be needed to drive Mobile Ajax forward, but what form they will take remains a topic of some debate.
Some argue that minor incremental changes to existing standards will suffice, while others maintain that major new standards efforts are required.
Of fundamental importance in this regard is whether new standards specific to Mobile Ajax are instituted, or whether existing standards are merely evangelized.
Yahoo presenter Doug Crockford regarded mashups and security a prime concern here. He later pointed out that the increased replacement rate of handsets (over computers) means that new standards can be adopted more quickly.
Education and Evangelism
Technical standards are one tool to unify the industry around a common vision. Other tools are education and evangelism, which sometimes are as important as standards. To this end, initiatives for web developers and Ajax toolkit developers may be needed, as well as for browser vendors and web service providers.
Members of OpenAjax, as co-sponsors of the workshop, suggested that it might play a crucial role in helping Ajax developers adapt as they turn their attention towards the mobile interface.
The workshop largely concluded that a common Ajax platform will become available across both desktop and mobile devices. Or, to put it another way, '"it will be Web on mobile, not a separate mobile Web".
The implications for users and developers of this new environment will be dramatic. Nowhere more so than in the web content management industry.
Read about the workshop and mobile machinations here.