Future of Mobile 2011

By: Barry Frost

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Last Friday a few of the team attended the Future of Mobile conference in London, organised by Carsonified, for a day of learning about some of the recent trends and techniques for mobile development.

Kicking off the day was Kevin Systrom, co-founder of Instragram, whose talk focused on his company’s journey from location-focused mobile game (Burbn) to the third biggest photo store on the internet (behind Facebook and Flickr). They decided to pivot when they saw that most of their users were using the original location service to upload photos. Kevin stressed the need to engage your communities and solve their problems. He also explained that the perceived speed of Instragram comes from beginning photo uploads immediately after they are taken, before the user has even clicked ‘upload’.

Next up was the highlight of the event for me, Brian LeRoux from Nitobi who ran through the benefits of PhoneGap, a toolkit for building native mobile apps using HTML5. Providing hooks into the device’s core functions, such as the camera, file system, geo-location, photo gallery, etc., you can use standard JavaScript libraries like jQuery Mobile or Sencha. Brian gave words of warning over performance of some CSS3 features like border-radius, box-shadow and gradients but recommended flex-box for layout. He also reminded us that webkit isn’t the only browser out there, pointing to Opera’s install base and the potential for IE growth. I was impressed by the beta PhoneGap:Build platform which offers cloud-based building of binaries, while their remote mobile debug tools drew gasps from the audience. Worth checking out.

There were plenty of useful facts in PayPal’s x.commerce evangelist, Naveed Anwar, including the growth his company/eBay are expecting to see in the mobile e-commerce market: up to £4.5bn in 2016 and £19bn in 2121. PayPal also expect to take over £1.9bn in mobile transactions this year. And one story revealed that 73% would rather use a smartphone than talk to a sales assistant when shopping.

After lunch there was a stunning demonstration of the capability of HTML5 games by Dominic Szablewski. He showed shooting and platform games, including Biolab Disaster powered by his ImpactJS platform, all running directly in the browser. Using native wrappers for mobile, graphics can be rendered using OpenGL and comparable to native code.

A passionate, tub-thumping talk by Ben Milne of Dwolla concerned his attempt to build “the next Visa, not the next PayPal” for mobile and merchant payments. With lofty ambitions and an interesting concept, it’s a shame that Dwolla is only available in the US.

The day’s final talk (before a closing panel session) was by Sencha’s James Pearce whose cross-platform mobile web development talk provided the best stat of the day: 38% of people admit to using their phones on the toilet; the other 62% are liars.

In between sessions there were opportunities to talk and network, including a chat I had with a guy from Vodafone who told me about the operator billing system they have developed to enable mobile payments directly from apps. Fast wifi, lots of coffee and a decent lunch kept us going. Overall, a useful day and plenty of food for thought as we focus on our own range of mobile web and app projects into 2012.


About the Author

Barry Frost

Barry Frost is the Chief Technical Officer (CTO) for Venntro and heads up the Development teams in Windsor and London.