Next-Generation Mobile Applications

Adobe and Microsoft are slugging it out for Internet applications, and some industry watchers say the application builder that wins out overall will be the chosen one for mobile Web application design and development.

With the introduction of Silverlight, Microsoft is muscling into Web and trying to become the standard for how applications are delivered to end users. It’s what Microsoft is counting on to displace current heavyweights Flash and Flex, both manufactured by Adobe.

Operating Systems, Development Platforms and Telecommunications

Mobile Web applications are controlled in large part by operating systems (Windows CE/Windows Mobile), while the hardware is controlled by handset manufacturers and the telecommunications companies that distribute them. This means ultimately three players are vying for control of software as the focus of the industry shifts from the PC to mobile devices: Web application platforms (Microsoft or Adobe), telecommunications companies and hardware makers.

End users have not congregated around a “killer” application on their mobile phones and PDAs, although many have been developed and more are coming online that promise to be device- and service-agnostic.

But the most compelling obstacle mobile applications have encountered is telecommunications’ control on independent software vendors’ distribution and revenue models. This significant speed bump has slowed the evolution of mobile applications and the sorting out of an industry leader — whether the industry is electronics manufacturing, platform innovation or application development.

With programmers unsure of how lucrative their products can become under the influence of telecommunications companies, developers have little incentive to create new tools. One exception, however, is Apple, which has disrupted this state of frustration by charging developers steeply for access to its development kit, while in return enabling them to make good money on applications they bring to market for Apple products.

The Current Competition

Most recently, Apple infiltrated the already fiercely market, emerging as a huge player in the space with the iPhone and iTouch. Yet, what Apple has been able to do with the iPhone can be looked at as the first step in an inevitable spiral toward change that will be welcomed by U.S. designers, developers and consumers.

The final fight between Adobe and Microsoft surely will depend on the movement of industry developers and the demands of content-hungry consumers. Microsoft’s platform is logical and prone to complexity, while Adobe’s developer base instead is very design-oriented.

If consumers develop a penchant and patience for video applications on their handhelds over text-focused applications that deliver the content they crave quickly and in an easy-to-read format, Adobe will remain on top.

However, if marketers don’t drive mobile Web applications as much as text-oriented teams, Microsoft’s weaker graphical offering that’s strong on data integration will rise to the top rank.

The alternative is an evolution of Silverlight and Flash that copycats the finer points of each one’s competitor such that consumers have more options — options that include both sensational graphic quality and outstanding data integration.

Kelly Shermach is a freelance writer based in Brooklyn, N.Y., who frequently writes about technology and data security. She can be reached at editor (at) certmag (dot) com.

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