The thick client: a window in time

The thick client: a window in time

I'm obviously not privy to the discussions in the inner sanctum of Apple, but if I were there, here's what I imagine they discussed before selecting their chosen course:

Question: ‘Why don't we encourage people to build location-aware websites as opposed to encouraging the development of thick clients?' (A thick client is software you download to the handheld where all the functionality of the application resides within the client.)

Answer: ‘Downloadable clients will operate smoothly regardless of the speed at which the phone connects to the Internet and regardless of the features found in the web browser. Since we control all aspects of our phone, including the hardware, software and delivery of new software (iTunes store), let's go for the proprietary solution that locks in our lead, i.e. software custom built for download on our phones.'

If I were in the room, I would have reminded everyone that these arguments were made when PointCast was around in the late ‘90's. Remember that company? This was the software product that you HAD to download to your computer if you wanted to read the news. PointCast's argument for a download was based on slow Internet speeds and a browser with limited functionality. At one stage, PointCast was valued at close to $500 million, but the company fundamentally misunderstood the role the web browser would play in the future of the Internet. Ultimately, users were able to extract the same value direct from CNN's website that they could from an expensive PointCast download.

I imagine PointCast's management team also pointed to the slow speed of the Internet and the rudimentary state of the web browser when they built their downloadable application.

Perhaps Apple should take a lesson from PointCast.

Xtify believes that the best location-based applications will live on the web and not in the form of fully functional downloadable clients. The best location-based services also won't be very expensive to develop, as they will simply require the web publisher to ascertain the location of its users, rather than the web publisher recoding their site into a downloadable application.

There are other reasons why a developer will use the web browser as the preferred medium for delivering a location-based service, rather than a thick downloadable client. Users' willingness to download clients will decrease over time, as users become aware that too many downloaded clients may degrade the performance of their cell phone.

If the development of the web is instructive in predicting the future of location-based services, then the iPhone store will play a more limited role over time in this important new space.

Andrew Weinreich is chief executive officer of Xtify – a company that provides a simple and cost-effective platform for mobile applications to location-enable their services anywhere in the world.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *