In issue 1.00 of our publication On Demand I introduced the concept of The Singularity, the logical destination of XML Web services evolution.
The continuing convergence of standards to allow remote applications to communicate securely and intelligently will see the Internet evolve to a single computing environment where business processes can be quickly interconnected in a "Plug and Play" manner, a concept described as 'The Singularity'.
Mobility and agility
This will be important for mobile computing scenarios, especially as businesses seek to become increasingly 'agile'. The model of the "adaptable enterprise", an organisation that can react to changing market conditions quicker and in general be more nimble is one that emphasises mobility. Small, modular project teams that operate in a highly distributed manner, deploying anywhere in the world with minimal set up time and cost. Naturally having to turn up with metres of cabling, a few switches, a screwdriver and lots of patience is hardly the essence of the fleet of foot!
Therefore it's not difficult to imagine these practices will drive a huge growth in mobile computing infrastructure and services, so what will these look like and what are their core building blocks?
The primary building block that will facilitate next-generation mobile applications is Digital Identity, so that providers can intelligently personalise a variety of services to each user. So step 1 is to authenticate your identity to the network, and what we're likely to see is increasingly sophisticated and elegant methods of quickly and conveniently achieving robust security that satisfies corporate needs. For example a mobile phone or device with fingerprint recognition will accurately confirm identity simply through using it.
Pervasive identity data
Once your identity has been established to the provider you can then access services available on their network. Of course what you'll want to do is access any service, those offered by any provider or from your own intranet, and this highlights the core facet of The Singularity: Our Digital Identity will become pervasive across multiple networks, achieved by providers sharing and exchanging personal user data. This will allow us to seamlessly access services no matter where they are hosted, as the required underlying business processes, such as authentication and billing, will be transparently handled by these exchanges.
Using XML Web services we can then plug in corporate legacy and other internal applications so that their processes can be accessed via this same framework.
Intelligent Data Services
Furthermore, providers will adopt technologies to build increasingly more intelligent capabilities into their networks, intelligence that will power new services that save us time and money and greatly increase our productivity.
For example, we might store our contact information in Outlook on our PC, and these intelligent services will see the data automatically updated across all devices that we use in an appropriate form. This might just be the name and phone number to our mobile phone, or more into a bigger device, but we won't have to worry about the details. The network will maintain the consistency across all of them in the correct manner.
Over time the information about us encompassed by our Digital Self will expand to include all manner of data that we use and value in our personal and working lives. All ubiquitously available to us, network intelligence replicating data in an appropriate form to the devices we need it from.
When we're in the office we work on various files: Word documents, Powerpoint presentations and so forth, and can face enormous hassles moving these around with us. Laptops get smaller and lighter all the time but they still don't provide the immediate ease we need, as we may find ourselves in an Internet cafÉ at some point, needing to quickly update a document but with no means of getting set up to do so.
What we really need is "My Documents Everywhere". Wherever we log on, there's My Documents, as we left it. Not remote access to it hosted elsewhere but an actual local instance of the files we're working on. No need to carry them around, save them to a network drive or email them to ourselves, My Documents Everywhere will be a universal folder locally available to us wherever we log on, from our work to an Internet cafÉ to a clients office. The network will take care of the intelligence behind the scenes to make this possible.
Games and the 'intelligent home'
So although improving devices will assist mobile computing capabilities, it will be these advances at the network level that will accelerate adoption, and it will equally expand into the home.
Naturally a very big dimension for the mobile applications market will be gaming, with vendors such as Nokia now releasing purpose built phones such as the N-Gage to exploit it. However, just like for business applications, real value and huge growth will only be unlocked once a completely universal network-centric approach is applied, otherwise we're only talking about the same old games for units like the Gameboy just played on a phone. Where's the fun in that? What's the point of a mobile unit only playing static games?
Gaming will really explode once we see the context expand to the multi-network level, with multi-player gaming featuring users taking part across mobile phones, PCs and consoles simultaneously. Full peer to peer gaming played at a media/network independent level.
Harnessing the enormous power of intelligent grid computing in the network, game sophistication will move on a quantum level, no longer constrained to a single console to provide its horsepower. Instead it will be able to call on a vast pool of collective supercomputing; software systems with the latest AI capabilities to bring to life incredibly complex environments, entire new online worlds featuring millions of players that engage consumers at a fundamentally deeper level than some simple 'toy games' to amuse themselves for five minutes. These game scenarios will utilise compelling community oriented modes of play, creating a unique opportunity for brand and loyalty development, and will be accessible from our phones when travelling and our TVs when at home.
And of course in the home it won't be limited to games. The ongoing growth of network-centric multimedia, i.e. downloading music etc., will continue and our stereo will equally become a device connected to this intelligent network, automatically detecting the availability of the latest release from our favourite artist and playing them for us.
With this level of universal availability of any type of data there's nothing to stop us breaking up the age old TV paradigm, that of having someone else program what we can watch and when, and then push it at us. If a TV program is an electronic file stored somewhere on a network, then it's ready to be grabbed and downloaded to you when you want it. And On Demand TV doesn't mean it has to be viewed on your TV, On Demand means any service to any device anywhere. Mobile computing will finally evolve to what the adverts have been promising: Full TV, right there on your phone or handheld, exactly when you want it.
Neil McEvoy, CEO, www.webservices-strategy.com, is a specialist in business and ROI strategy for service oriented architecture technologies.
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Learn how the marriage between data and devices drives the evolution of mobile