Sunday, 4 January 2009

Fruit Wars: Is the portable future an Apple or a Blackberry?

2009 will be the year portable devices really go head to head in a battle that will probable make the 1990's browser wars look like a kindergarten tussle. If you want to read a very informative and entertaining account of the browser wars check out the oral history of the Internet.

Whereas the 1990s browser wars where primarily between Microsoft's Internet Explorer and Netscape (do remember you Netscape), the portability wars will be between Apple's iPhone, RIM's Blackberry, and everyone else. At the moment it looks as though the momentum is with the iPhone. As quoted in a number of places on the internet: "On October 21, 2008 Apple announced sales of 6.89 million iPhones in the fourth quarter of 2008, totalling 13 million iPhones to date. They also noted that this quarter's iPhone sales surpassed RIM's BlackBerry sales of 5.2 million units". However, it is clearly too early to rule out Blackberry and large mobile phone players such as Nokia with its N97 which it unveiled in December 2008. Of course the market may continue to fracture with Blackberry ruling the corporate sector and the iPhone ruling the lifestyle personal use sector of the market.

As with the 1990s web browser fracas, the portability wars will have a huge impact on the way we access information and who controls that process. There is and will continue to be a tsunami of comments on all of this. After all, there is a huge amount of money at stake. Other fascinating questions include:

• If Apple gets too much market share will the Europeans treat Apple the same way they treated Microsoft?

• Will the US invoke anti trust laws if one player is seen as having too great a market share in the US?

• What happens to Apple and the iPhone if Steve Jobs never attends another Macworld Expo and sails off into the sunset? (Apologies to Larry Ellison).

Because this is a library IT blog, the question here is what does all this mean (if anything) for libraries? Well for starters, libraries will need to get on board the portable devices bandwagon. Libraries need to make sure their own online offerings work on portable devices, and that it is easy for patrons to upload and use.

Other than OCLC's Worldcat application for iPhones, there currently appears to be little in the way library applications for portable devices. This is a worry given there are over 10,000 iPhone applications as of January 2009, and a search on the iPhone app store reveals nothing in the way of library based applications. The table to the left is sourced from 148apps.com and shows the current number of iPhone apps by category.

Forget apps, how many libraries have started to reconfigure their Web portals so they look good and work well via portable devices? If you want to see how it can be done very well check out the New York Times via iPhone. How many libraries have even started to think about this sort of stuff? It is time to get cracking. After all, think about all those sales of iPhones, Blackberries, and other such devices, and then ask yourself how many of your patrons use these devices to access information.

To finish on a slightly more positive note, it is interesting to see that according to 148apps.com there are 740 apps dealing with books though a lot of these seem to relate to Manga (not that this is a bad thing, it just is). And speaking of the Japanese, it is also interesting to see that the Australian Oxford Dictionary (2nd Edition) can now be downloaded on an iPhones for AUD $29.99. This application is available via the Japanese based Enfour Inc. For details see http://www.enfour.com/iphone. Given the leadership Japan has shown in taking up mobile technology it comes as no surprises that Enfour is a Japanese company that specialises in applications for portable devices.

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