Since the slew of table and smartbook announcements at CES last week it has been on my mind that there is no longer a clear delineation between ‘web’ and ‘mobile’ devices, and that this has profound implications for app design and the way we think about the market.
The most obvious and important difference has always been screen size, mobile is small and web is bigger. But now we have screens at almost every size – iPhone at 3.5 inches, the Google Nexus phone at 3.7 inches, Dell’s tablet announced at 5 inches, the Freescale tablet at 7 inches, the coming Apple tablet rumoured to be at 7 and 10 inches, and Duros selling an 8 inch rugged tablet before we get on to netbooks and laptops at 9, 10, 11, inches and every size beyond.
Another important difference has been ease of input – keyboards and mice made it easy on the larger web devices and designers had to be more creative when building apps for mobile. Touch screen on mobile has made a huge difference to ease of input, and the voice recognition on the Nexus shows the way things are going here. As Fred Wilson noted earlier this week in a blog post he dictated from his Nexus some are arguing that we may not have keyboards on any of our computing devices in ten years time.
The final distinction has been mobility – we carried our phones with us everywhere. Once again that is breaking down. Netbooks are small enough that always having them in a bag is isn’t a problem and I suspect that a number of tablets will be deployed in the home in the place of laptops e.g. in the living room for music services and in the kitchen. Certainly that is what we are planning here.
Wrapping this up, I think the conclusion is that rather than having two camps – web and mobile, pretty soon the best way to think about the market will be a continuous range of devices with almost all screen sizes, a variety of input methods and varying mobility. Rather than designing for web or mobile, maybe developers will start by thinking of who their target customers are, what devices they typically use and optimising the service for those whilst finding cost effective ways to get the app working as well as possible on all other devices.
Providing developers with the tools to easily get their app working well on devices with a large range of characteristics could be a lucrative business too. A lot of VCs lost a lot of money backing this idea in the 1999-2000 bubble (myself included 🙁 ), but the time might finally be upon us now. How this works will be complicated by whether the app or web paradigm comes to dominate.