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Gartner's 6 Mobile Architectures

Mobile is very important in the development context. The Shuttleworth Foundation is actively promoting mobile education projects and are looking for new ideas and new pilots that they could support. The SAFIPA conference pushed mobile in a big way. They also made the important point that South Africa and other countries which have a poor (or terribly expensive) broadband infrastructure, have an advantage over wealthy industrialised nations in that they have a head start in conceiving of and developing innovative new mobile technologies and services. Such services would not find a support base in the wealthier countries and are not necessarily needed there, since users can afford high-end devices such as laptops, as well as broadband connectivity. This is why the prepaid mobile phone service was invented in South Africa, and Kenya leads in M-banking take-up.

On the other hand, ultimately users do want rich content, and in perhaps 15 years time, as device prices and connectivity prices continue to plummet, the playing fields will have been levelled and users in developing countries will also adopt the technologies that make consumption and production of information easiest. A lot of these technologies may resemble something of a hybrid between current mobile and notebook technology, however they will also include wet, "embedded" circuitry, for instance allowing viewing via implants to the optic nerve and such. In that milieu, services are going to allow more just-in-time interventions between work and non-work activities, and for some the gap will grow closer. In the meantime, Gartner leaves us with 6 mobile architectures and an idea of when to deploy each. I think they have sliced up the space very interestingly indeed and one can learn from their insights:
  1. Thick client: this is basically a computer in a mobile phone - all data and application code are on the device and can be synchronised. It requires a lot of development resources to write apps for this stand-alone architecture. We are seeing a lot of this on iphones, etc.
  2. Rich Client: is similar to 1, but without the data layer - data is on the network.
  3. Streaming client: use your end device to watch TV.
  4. Thin client: your end device runs a browser and can render content other than video.
  5. Messaging client: SMS, etc. (they also mention e-mail in this category, curiously enough).
  6. "No Client": you only have voice on your end device.
Our partner, the Rhodes CoE, works intensively with IVR and VoiceXML solutions and it was interesting to see the two legacy mobile technologies split apart (point 5 and 6), in a new way. Further the distinction between 3) and 4), where Gartner defines a thin client as being able to render content - the difference to video streaming clients (which also basically just render) is in the bandwidth (i.e. network infrastructure alone). You need better connectivity for 3) than 4). The distinction between 4) and 5) is also a little blurry, because email requires Internet Protocol (IP) technology, whereas SMS uses legacy messaging protocols.

The future is definitely going to be interesting. Today eKhaya ICT cemented plans to be part of an international cooperation involving the HTWB (University of Applied Sciences Berlin and Rhodes) developing using these technologies.

Posted: August 5th 2009 03:31

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