Even more than these low-level applications and frameworks, however, increasingly the common denominator for mobile applications development -- for business, in particular -- is the Web. We're seeing the same trend with desktop applications, with the rise of SaaS applications such as Salesforce.com.
To facilitate modern handhelds' new role as first-class clients of Web-based applications, mobile device vendors have equipped their latest offerings with ever more sophisticated Web browser applications. The browsers supplied by the Android and iPhone platforms, for example, are no pint-sized players. Both use a version of the WebKit rendering engine -- the same code base that powers the Chrome and Safari desktop browsers.
But believe it or not -- although details are still scant -- Palm's forthcoming WebOS SDK seems to take the concept of integrating the mobile platform with the Web a step further. Rumor has it that the Mojo Application Framework -- the primary development platform for webOS -- is based on the Dojo AJAX framework. Close examination reveals that sample Mojo code is rife with Dojo-like function calls. (Perhaps Mojo stands for "Mobile Dojo"?)
What's more, Palm's own description of the webOS application paradigm focuses less on games and computation-intensive system applications than it does on integration of disparate data sources -- such as contacts and calendar appointments -- from around the Web and network-enabled desktop applications.
Perhaps surprisingly, this is completely in keeping with the first-generation Palm OS of years ago. What made Palm great was that it was a platform that knew its place. Rather than trying to be a stripped-down version of a full-featured desktop OS -- I'm looking at you, Windows Mobile -- it served the strengths of its medium.
In the heyday of the PDA, when Palm ruled the roost, that meant a lean, easy-to-navigate UI that emphasized the immediate task that the user wanted to complete. In today's mobile network-connected era, however, the device that best serves the needs of the consumer will be the one that does the best job of aggregating the various personal data stores that the user has scattered across his or her various applications and platforms.
To its credit, Palm's new WebOS seems well-positioned to serve that niche -- which is a little bit amazing. A year ago, I never would have thought that in January 2009 I would have been writing something positive about Palm and its future as a smartphone platform. But, bless me, I think I've just done it.