[Mobile widgets: hype or paradigm shift? Research Director Andreas Constantinou talks about the commercial reality behind widgets and compares and contrasts 8 widget platform solutions to shed more light into this new driver of mobile service adoption].
What’s in a widget? It’s amazing how such small pieces of cute graphics are managing to create such a hype wave in the mobile industry. What widgets lack in size, they gain in terms of market expectations; most European tier-1 operators have deployed or getting in proposals for widget-based solutions, while for handset manufacturers (e.g. N97) widgets are the latest must-have feature to drive up selling price in the footsteps of the iUserExperience.
The concept has come a long way; widgets as single-purpose, windowed, mini-applications, were introduced by Apple’s Dashboard, popularised by Yahoo’s Konfabulator and mass-adopted through Microsoft’s Vista. Yet while widgets are nice-to-have on PCs, they are a must-have on mobile; in a sense, mobile is the promised land for widgets,since their properties make them ideally suited for this domain; small screen space, limited memory requirements, quick to download due to small size, visually unobtrusive and condensing a diverse set of complex information onto a compact 4×4 grid.
There’s plenty of demand for widget-driven solutions; operator rationale for sourcing widget solutions varies, but generally revolves around three axes:
- a tool to increase mobile Internet usage on mass market handsets (like Opera Mini for everything beyond the web)
- a customer acquisition tool for attracting customers onto a data plan
- a tool to both discover AND deliver operator services
So what about technology supply? The hype wave has triggered the launch of a wide range of solution providers. Beyond the mainstream mobile software providers (ACCESS, Opera, Picsel, Sun, SurfKitchen and Yahoo), there are manufacturer-led solutions (Nokia WebRuntime, WidSets and Motorola WebUI) as well as numerous smaller mobile solution vendors (Insprit, FeedHenry, Streamezzo, Ulocate, ViaMobility, Webwag and Zumobi).
A fun part of what we do here at VisionMobile is vendor comparative analysis (e.g. see last year’s Mobile App Store analysis). We ‘ve spent quite a bit of time talking to widget solution vendors and comparing and contrasting their commercial attributes. For this analysis, we looked at 8 mobile widget products: Nokia WidSets, Nokia WRT, Opera, Access, Motorola WebUI, Yahoo Blueprint, Sun Java ODP and SurfKitchen Widgets. We selected major solution providers; Nokia with two widget solutions (with WidSets now being merged under Ovi), Opera (a strong performer with Vodafone and T-Mobile deals), Access (one of the earliest to roll out widgets with operators in Japan), Motorola WebUI (great vision, albeit slow to execute), Yahoo (impressively executed Yahoo Go! strategy, now extended to widgets, Sun (Internet and Java centric vision, but well resourced) and finally SurfKitchen (veteran in mobile software and ODPs, and recently extending onto widget deals).
We ‘ve summarised our comparative vendor research into the table below. There’s quite a lot of data in this table – so we ‘ve added a PDF version after the click.
So are widgets just another iFad ? We would argue that they are not. Widgets are perfectly suited for discovering and delivering the 100s of operator services that so far remain hidden behind WAP menus, premium SMS shortcodes and cryptic USSD instructions. Equally importantly, we believe that widgets will be also instrumental for exposing network services to third party developers (i.e. using widgets to wrap network APIs) and also engaging users in a social discussion around widgets (including service) discovery and sharing. We ‘ve only seen the tip of the widgets iceberg.
Comments welcome as always.