HTML5 – bridging the mobile platform gap: mobile technologies in scholarly communication

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  • E-reading comes of age

    The proliferation in recent years of smart mobiledevices, e-readers, tablets and the like is arguablythe development that at last makes e-reading apractical and mainstream reality, and thereforesignals a new maturity in the digital publishingindustry.

    Reading e-books or e-journals on a desktopcomputer was never an entirely satisfyingexperience, and they were always going to seemlike poorer versions of their real-world equivalentsuntil the delivery technology evolved to a pointwhere they could begin to offer added value interms of greater convenience, speed and enhancedmedia possibilities over physical publications.Now at last it seems that reading from a screen,rather than from a printed page, can offer acompelling value proposition to the end-user. Andas we shall see, publishers of non-narrative works,particularly, have additional areas of added valuethey can tap into arising from features particular tomobile devices, such as geolocation. Suchpossibilities will inevitably lead to big changes in

    the way published content is delivered andaccessed; changes that will impact not only theconsumer market, but also the scholarly andprofessional information market.

    Every silver lining has a cloud, however, and itcannot be denied that the speed and scale of thischange is causing disruption in all parts of thepublishing supply change: for publishers, inter-mediaries and librarians alike.

    Many institutions have invested heavily in e-resources designed to be read on computerscreens, and may find themselves wrong-footed by the pace at which mobile access to informationcontent is becoming mainstream. Even forward-looking initiatives such as Elseviers Article of theFuture prototypes1 are designed with computer-screen reading in mind. Librarians might feel thatthe liberation of published content from constraintsof place, and the diminishing reliance on physicalobjects that have to be wheeled about and kept instacks trends which mobile delivery can onlyaccelerate are placing them in imminent danger

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    HTML5 bridging the mobile platformgap: mobile technologies in scholarlycommunicationThe explosion in smart mobile devices is increasing demand for mobile-enabled content and services. The growth in this market has providedopportunities for scholarly publishers to deliver targeted and relevantmobile content and information to their customers.

    Most innovative publishers have started to experiment with mobilestrategies, and have developed applications for iPhone, Android andBlackBerry. However, since these devices are based on differenttechnology platforms, development for multiple devices inevitably meanssignificant duplicated effort as application code cannot be sharedbetween them.

    HTML5 provides publishers with a new set of powerful technologies to mitigate this problem. Byusing HTML5 and web services, publishers can cut out wasted effort and build cross-platform appswhich work on all current mobile devices.This paper explores the options in more detail, and showshow publishers can reduce development costs, improve time to market and deliver more future-proof mobile applications.

    RICHARD PADLEYManaging DirectorSemantico

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    of being disintermediated. At the very least theirroles will change, with a requirement for new skill-sets and knowledge.

    For publishers, the commercial uncertainties ofthe highly competitive mobile market space theDarwinian struggle of form factors and featuresets, the turf wars between tech behemoths likeApple and Google are providing a series ofheadaches, not least of which is the challenge ofcross-platform publishing.

    Which devices / operating systems / app storesshould they develop for? Should they take anorganization-wide strategic decision about suchquestions (based on factors like who will succeedSteve Jobs, or what they think Googles ultimateplan for Android might be) or should they makedecisions on a collection-by-collection or even title-by-title basis? What development platform orplatforms should they support, and what resourcesand knowledge might they need to be able to takethese decisions sensibly?

    It is the latter of these challenges the problemof cross-platform content delivery that we intendto concentrate on in this article, because while itmight seem primarily an issue for publishers, italso affects intimately those downstream in thesupply chain such as intermediaries and librarians,because it is here that we see the full import of themobile revolution. Many information sources thatcurrently come packaged as journals or books

    could soon begin to look very different. As we willsee, books can now become not only e-books, butalso software applications, or apps.

    We hope to provide some insights here that willhelp inform and clarify the decisions that will ariseout of these changes not a paracetamol to takeaway the headache, perhaps; more a piece of Dr Kawashima brain-training. We will point upsome significant trends in the mobile market,survey the technology landscape, and finally zeroin on the particular set of decisions thrown up bythe issue of whether it is better in any given set ofcircumstances to develop a native app for mobile,or to optimize an existing website.

    Trends in the mobile market

    Perhaps the most significant trend in the mobilemarket is the rapid growth of the mobile internet.Morgan Stanley predicts that internet access throughmobile devices will overtake desktop traffic withinfive years. Gartner has an even more aggressiveforecast: smartphones will surpass 1.82 billion unitsby 2013, says the analyst, eclipsing the total numberof 1.78 billion PCs by then. According to Deloitte(May 2009), web traffic from mobiles is growingeight times faster than web traffic from UK PCs.

    Figure 1 shows the publishers problem in anutshell. While publishing to desktop devices is

    Figure 1. Smartphone OS sales 2010 (Source: Gartner)

  • relatively pain-free nowadays, thanks to platform-agnostic formats such as HTML, PDF, EPUB, Flash,etc. and a greater degree of interoperability betweenthe two leading operating systems, Windows andApples OS X than existed in previous times, themobile market is a far more diverse propositionwhen it comes to operating systems.

    Not only are there a number of operatingsystems to cater for, but the diversity betweenthem is far greater than is found in the desktopworld. To focus on language alone, iOS, theoperating system of Apples hugely popular andinfluential iPhone and iPad devices, usesObjective-C, while Windows phones use .Net, andAndroid and BlackBerry each use very differentflavours of Java. Neither are the devices they runon at all homogeneous. Screen size varies hugelybetween BlackBerry, the different Android devicesand iPhone. And thats without factoring in tabletformats such as iPad.

    Within operating systems there is furtherdiversity. The OEMs who make the devices arealways looking for ways to differentiate theirbrands, with the result that two devices runningwhat seems like the same operating system canbehave very differently. Android, Googles opensource operating system, runs on many differentdevices and can look very different dependingwhere you encounter it. Different models ofBlackBerry, though made by the same OEM, arealso very different to develop for.

    A further level of complexity is introduced bythe competitiveness and relative immaturity of the market. In this respect, Figure 1 is slightlymisleading in that it shows market share for anentire year. However, during that year, there was alot of movement. Android, particularly, increasedits share considerably. Figures for Q4 would showa very different balance between Symbian, used byNokia and Sony (41% over the whole year, but 31%in Q4) and Android (17% over the whole year, but33% in Q42). There is no clear market leader in thesmartphone market, despite Apples first-moveradvantage in having produced the breakthroughdevice, the iPhone. The tablet/e-reader market iseven more immature. Some tech analysts predict aGoogle/Apple duopoly along the lines of theMicrosoft/Apple face-off that has dominateddesktop computing, but even this is far from adone deal. BlackBerry is definitely a contender,with serious designs on the tablet market, and itwould be foolish to write off Windows Mobile.

    Another significant factor in the Mobiletechnology stack - alongside devices, operatingsystems, OEMs and network operators (who alsolike to introduce elements of differentiation onoccasion) are the app stores.

    Apple popularized the concept, but now facesstiff competition from a burgeoning number of appstores, which are either native to particular OSS orsupplied as third-party platforms (see Table 1). TheAndroid market, in particular, is coming up hardon the rails. At time of writing, it had alreadyeclipsed Apples App Store for iPhone in terms offree applications, and at current rates of growth isforecast to beat Apple into second place for overallnumber of apps available in late 20113.

    Android has struggled to monetize its app storeas quickly as Apple, however. Almost twice asmany iPhone and iPod touch users regularlydownload paid apps as Android and webOS users4.

    Apple app store metrics should also be a sourceof encouragement for publishing. In October 2010,books managed to topple games as the numberone category for apps in its store, and still at timeof writing come a respectable second, with morethan 57,000 book apps5.

    While the success of smartphones as e-readingdevices has perhaps been somewhat unexpected,tablet devices such as iPad, BlackBerry Playbookand the rest, with their larger screen real estate andmore book-like form factor, promise even more fore-reading. These will change the face of newspapersand magazines as well as e-books and e-journals,providing the opportunity, in the words of ChrisAnderson from Wired, of creating rich, curated,long form, heavy duty, high investment media.Hardware sales are already approaching those ofe-ink devices such as Kindle.

    However, all such good news also contains its shareof woe, as each new device release only adds to thedevelopment headaches we have mentioned above,caused by the highly diverse nature of the mobiletechnology stack and the complex market landscape.

    Time now, perhaps, to delve deeper into some ofthose technology issues and to see what answers,if any, technology can provide to the complexchallenges it has raised for content providers.

    Technology: problems and opportunities

    One important issue that we touched on earlier inthis article is the question of what happens to

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  • published content when it migrates online. In com-mon with other sectors of the information industrysuch as advertising, education and training,publishing experienced a first wave of digitalenthusiasm where the focus was chiefly on like-for-like content conversion e.g. billboards becamebanner ads, courses became e-courses and booksbecame e-books and then quickly found secondwave, disruptive effects muddying the water. Text,once it is digitized and put online, has a disturbingtendency not to want to stay within the covers of abook. And readers (or as they tend to be called inthis new world, users) just cannot be persuaded tobehave in the same way towards the virtualizedartefact as they did within the physical realm.

    To illustrate this change in the interactionbetween content and users, and to perhaps throw amore positive light on it, Id like to consider, briefly,a real-world example.

    The Good Beer Guide, in its various printededitions, has long stood on bookshelves of mine or,more often, rattled around in the glove compart-ment of my car. But now I no longer buy it as abook. I have it as an app on my iPhone instead6.However, in this new incarnation it no longerappears or functions much like a book, although,paradoxically, I use it in much the same way: I hita new town feeling thirsty, and consult the Guidefor the nearest decent pub. It now responds to thisrequirement in a very different way, however. For

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    Table 1. Mobile app stores

    Mobile app stores

    Source:Wikipedia

    OS-native platforms Third-party platforms

    Android Market Amazon Appstore

    App Catalog AmmApp

    Software Store (Palm) AndSpot

    App Store AndroidPIT App Center

    App World App Center

    Download Fun/Download Catalog Appitalism(Danger Hiptop/pre-2011 T-Mobile Sidekick)

    Ovi Store AppsLib

    Windows Phone Marketplace BloomWorlds

    Cellmania

    GetJar

    MobileRated

    Handmark

    Mobango

    Handango

    explorePDA.com

    LG Application Store

    MiKandi

    MobiHand

    Mobspot

    Mobile2Day, Smartphone.net

    PocketGear

    AndroidGear

    SymbianGear

    RimGear

    PalmGear

    Samsung Application Store

    SlideME

    Nduoa Market

    Software Store (Sprint)

    VZAppZone

    Get It Now

  • a start, due to the miracle of geolocation, it knowswhere I am. I no longer need to consult an index to find my nearest pub (a whole job function,indexing, disintermediated out of the publishingprocess right there!), the Guide can presentimmediately to me the nearest pubs to where I amthat it knows about, together with reviews. Notonly that, but by interacting with Google Maps, itcan help me get there. If Im planning a journey in advance, I can search the Guide by address, ortube station. This sort of functionality is now sowidespread in smartphone apps that we almosttake it for granted, but the way in which this appdelivers it reveals something significant aboutdirectories, guides and many other species ofreference works: they are fundamentally databases.Putting them online enables them to interact withother databases (Google Maps, The London Tubesystem) to deliver added value.

    There is nothing particularly special about theexample I have chosen: CAMRA have not built thebest app in the world, and the present writer couldnot vouch for whether it makes money for itspublisher or not. However, the wider implicationsare clear: a significant amount of added value islocked up within broad swathes of non-narrativeprinted works that the mobile internet has thecapability to release. Mobility, web services, datamash-ups and geolocation take us beyond thephase of like-for-like digitization, and into a moreinteresting place where an e-book need not be apallid instantiation of a printed work, but somethingwith its own extended life. This example of what isbasically a consumer product also has repercussionsfor scholarly publishing. Just imagine that I am anacademic and that instead of beer, it is a particularjournal article or book I am after, and that it is nota town I am visiting but a university library, or anarchive. It can be seen immediately that there is animplication here for those whose job is to provideaccess and discovery fo...