Tuesday, March 04, 2008

Mobile Silverlight: Eh? (More Mobile Ranting)

There's some news and Twitter chat around the/a hook-up between Nokia and Microsoft's Silverlight technology.

First up for those who live in the real world, what is Silverlight? According to the Silverlight site, it's nothing less than "a cross-browser, cross-platform plug-in for delivering the next generation of .NET based media experiences and rich interactive applications for the Web". Hell yeah!

What does that mean? Who the feck knows. As I understand it (which is not to say what it actually is), it's a way of designing interfaces that let you access something (e.g. an on-line service) from wherever-you've-installed-Silverlight: your Windows PC, your Mac, etc... and now your Nokia mobile phone.

Darren Water's article at the BBC blog notes that Silverlight has been dubbed a "flash killer". I'm guessing that doesn't mean it hunts down college jocks out to save the Planet Earth, nor that it murders your computer with a particular panache and flair. (In fact, that should probably be a pedantically-phrased "Flash[tm] killer".)

More interestingly, further down, Darren says:
It could mean that the latest cool web 2.0 application that you've been playing with on your Mac or PC will run just as well on your mobile phone.
This, for me, holds some interest, because - well, because so far I'm quite dismayed that the "latest" services haven't been accessible via my mobile. At least, not without the usual stupendous mobile rates.

Take ebay, for example. I'd love to get alerts and bid via text message, but looking at how to go about it, I get a charge of 12p per "item" (is that auction item, or SMS item?). Bugger that, then. SMS alerts are a "premium service", I'm told.

And maybe this is the crux of it. "Cross-device" technology, especially in the UK, is doomed to be a "premium service". Silverlight is coming out on "Nokia's high end smart phones" we're told. But will I ever get it on my bog standard Nokia? Will I be able to afford ridiculously-priced data charges, or want the risk of a stupidly large phone bill as a result of installing Silverlight? Not really.

I get far too many free texts on my mobile. I want to use them. Twitter is good, but getting messages as texts only really works for certain people, and I'm not one of them.

There's a reason Silverlight will have problems, and it's the same reason why Mobile Video on demand has problems: too much complexity, for too much money, on too small a device. Silverlight runs the risk of trying to blur the lines between PC and Mobile, just as Mobile Video tries to blur the lines between TV and Mobiles. Mobiles are not TV or a Desktop. Get over it. Mobiles have limited input and limited output - that's their restriction, but also their beauty. That's why they're popular.

Hey, here's an idea - why not make Desktop/Palmtop interfaces based on mobile interfaces? The scaling up of simplicity (rather than the scaling down of complexity) might even make navigation easier to detach from keyboards and mice, and more amenable to gestures or other input devices. We might expect our PCs to do "less", but do more with what they do do. (Hint: I really don't use or need desktop widgets all that much.)

In fact, the more I think about this, the angrier I get. Time to go and look at a picture of kittens in a barrel.

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