Note - this post is an expansion on an earlier draft posted at Sonoa's blog in early December 2009.
Mary Meeker’s Web 2.0 presentation made a strong case for the imminent boom on the mobile internet. Some statistics that caught my attention:
- Mobile internet users will exceed 500M human beings in early 2010
- The mobile consumer device market will exceed 10B in the next 5 years
- The current iPhone + iTouch user base is larger than Netscape’s base in 1999
- More than 20% of the world will be on 3G networks by the close of 2010
This is a serious change in how people are using the Internet. I don’t think of the Internet as synonymous with the Web; the Web is one pattern of applications, based on HTML and HTTP, that uses a common infrastructure – the Internet. Both the iPhone and Android phones have a much higher share of Web and Internet usage than previous generations of mobile devices. But are they really using the internet? Or are they using the Cloud?
From my point of view, the Cloud is another pattern of applications – like the Web – that use a common infrastructure – the internet. But just as Web application patterns are different from other Internet applications (like email, for example), Cloud application patterns have their own rich array of styles and requirements. And what we’re seeing with mobile consumer devices is an explosion of applications that reside on the device and use the Cloud for access to remote logic and data.
(click to enlarge)
APIs are a major part of this - they are user interfaces for machines. RSS and ATOM are effectively simple, standard APIs for machines to get at content that hasn't been marked up for a human interface. APIs do this for business logic and data, rather than simple content. Mobile app and web app developers can use a site's APIs to build very cool new applications that look and behave totally unlike the original website.
There are many implications of this pattern, including the need for elastic computing capabilities, commonly thought of as "cloud infrastructure". Elasticity is an attractive capability in its own right, but when coupled with API-driven applications running on many devices and machines in many places, it becomes crucial.
While there is plenty of usage of WAP vs. APIs today (the yellow bars vs. the green bars) to power limited functionality versions of websites and deliver these to mobile devices, this is proving both brittle and unappealing by comparison to the vibrant experiences of native applications on iPhone and Android devices. It seems to me that future of the mobile internet is not the mobile web – resized, limited web pages rendered by a WAP server and discovered via Google and Bing – but the cloud.
What we’re starting to see across multiple industries and business models (from Amazon and Netflix to Sears and Blockbuster) are the first generation of sites rebuilding their backends to be accessible via cloud APIs in order to give access to mobile applications that will drive their business. Some sites are on their second and third generation, having rebuilt their web presence to rely on the same cloud APIs that their mobile applications do.
With the launch of the Apple iPad and the Motorola Droid we are already seeing Ms. Meeker's predictions about mobile devices coming true. There is more to come and in my mind it's guaranteed that the mobile boom will be accompanied by a massive expansion of APIs and cloud infrastructure along with it.