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Over The Air: Mobile Going Mainstream

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Matthew Postgate Matthew Postgate | 14:05 UK time, Thursday, 10 April 2008

So, as many of you will be aware, we supported the Over The Air festival on Friday and Saturday. It was a great event and I'm really pleased that we were able to be involved.

overtheair_badge.pngFor the BBC, supporting this type of event is really important to what we are trying to achieve on mobile. We wanted to help to create an environment where developers and designers who are passionate about mobile could exchange ideas. I think that - as grassroots development is beginning to scale and as the ideas it generates emerge - we will see some of the fragmentation that has dogged mobile for so long also begin to disappear. One of the most encouraging aspects for me was the tangible sense that mobile is happening right now, in front of us.

I gave a presentation at the beginning of the event which covered the "where we've been, where we are and where we are going" with mobile at the BBC. One of the themes I spoke about is the evolution of our mobile browser site. I think that our mobile site is great but I also think that it's in the process of fundamentally changing.

Increasingly, we need to understand how it relates to the fixed line version of bbc.co.uk. Bringing the web together is one of the real challenges that "mobile" becoming mainstream presents all of us, whether you maintain mobile versions of your website or not.

Audiences who are increasingly accessing the web on portable devices naturally have expectations that services will work and relate to the experiences they have become used to on their computers. The developers that were at OTA and the ideas they are coming up with are also increasingly creating an expectation that the mobile web will offer even more: an experience that plays to the strength of the medium, of an integration with other platforms that is more sophisticated than just straight repurposing.

The talks and the prototypes that were developed over the two days hinted at the opportunities being created. It was all stimulating but three of the category winners in particular pointed towards this future.

Most practical / ready for the market was won by SNOB - a tool that allows you to populate your phone's address book with details from social network sites. I thought there was something really interesting here around unleashing the wealth of information that has been created online - tying it together with the tool we use most to communicate with seems obvious and also pregnant with possibility. There also something interesting in understanding identity as the management of other people's details in relationships to ourselves rather than managing our own identity in relationship to others.

Best mobile widget was awarded not to a widget but to Auto Widget Configurator, which was an easy way of moving a widget from your PC browsing experience to your mobile - again a simple idea that brings the two situations together.

It was similar to the winner of Best mobile web application: Browser Sync. This prototype moved your history including the page you are currently browsing from you desktop to your mobile or vice versa. The judges could see the immediate benefits but there was also the potential to develop the idea so that there is some subtle optimisation as the page is "moved across", either in terms of formatting or even the content of the page. At their best, ideas that bring the web together change the way people use both the mobile web and the fixed line web by taking into account the audience's different situation.

While the mobile web was, quite rightly, an important theme of Over The Air, the breadth of talks and prototypes also reflected what a rich area it is for designers and technologists. Applications, Location, Accelerometer interfaces and even remote controlled robots all got a look in.

The event was a testament to all those involved in organising and running it, along with everybody who attended.

I want to extend a heartfelt thanks to the team from Momolondon, Imperial College, Mobile Monday and BBC Backstage who did a really good job pulling it all together, and to all the people from the BBC who toughed it out from the Thursday night to Saturday morning.

I hope that the connections people made will continue to be productive - the BBC will continue to work with Momolondon, so look out for future events.

Matthew Postgate is Controller, Mobile, BBC Future Media and Technology.


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