Vodafone 360 Widgets

I was invited by some nice people at Vodafone to come along to the launch of Vodafone 360.

Amongst all the glitz and glam PR ladies that made me feel like I’d walked into a Bond film was a real product: a couple of new Samsung phones and a raft of applications and services provided by Vodafone. I’m not their marketing department, so you can read all about it on the 360 site.

After watching a sexy video about Nick (a “typical 360 customer”) who seemed to do nothing else other than take black cabs around the West End to hang out with glamourous 20 year olds, only one of whom ever did any work (and that was restricted to nodding her head and languidly sliding up a fader on a mixing desk), we looked at the tech.

The 360 services are applications pre-supplied by Vodafone. There was a live-demo (brave!) of an application made by Domino’s Pizza that allows the user to buy a pizza incredibly easily; the phone’s GPS told the nearest shop the user’s location, and the cost of the pizza is added to the user’s VF phone bill.

What’s interesting thing about the 360 applications is that they’re not built using Java, C++ or some vendor-specific language. Instead, they’re written using HTML, CSS, JavaScript and packaged up according to (draft) W3C spec called Widgets 1.0: Packaging and Configuration. The packaging is as simple as writing a config.xml file or using the Widget Packager wizard to do it for you, and zipping up your config, HTML, CSS, JavaScript and any images and renaming the resulting file with a .wgt extension. (Widget tutorial: Making a mobile Twitter client.)

For Widgets, read “applications”; I think the name does the spec and concept a disservice, as it implies trivilality or toys. What’s cool is the Vodafone implementation has “live” icons that can display info even when the application isn’t fully opened.

The advantage to using W3C widgets (and presumably the reason that Mr Vodafone invited me) is that if you know how to write standards-compliant web pages, you know how to make mobile phone applications. Vodafone are encouraging developers to write and sell through their app store which operates a 70/30 revenue split, favouring the developer. (There will be a €1million prize fund for the best new widgets, they said.)

The emphasis on standards continued in a surprising way; a venture capitalist lady on a Q&A panel talked of W3C standards being advantageous to both developer and customer. There was a VF suit with a whole slide listing standards and a W3C logo. This was all music to my ears, of course, given that I’ve been banging on about the benefits of standards for years, but it was odd to see so many suits repeating it.

The success of 360 remains to be seen; I think it’s launched to consumers in a month or so. Its DRM-free music is a plus, but the quality of the handsets will be the Christmas make-or-break, in my opinion. I’m no fan of the iPhone, but for user experience it’s without equal so the new Samsung hardware will need to be pretty special in a way that my Samsung Omnia isn’t.

The day was surprising in that I met three people I didn’t expect to see; the first was Opera’s CEO Jon von Tetzchner (=my boss) who was speaking on the expert panel as Opera is the 360 browser.

The second was ever-cheerful Cathy Ma who introduced me to people with an anecdote about nipples, and the Mobile Web Best Practices Working Group‘s answer to John Steed, Jo Rabin, who I’ve spoken to every Tuesday afternoon for many months but had never met.

And so to the party, where much beer was consumed and CSS Media Queries discussed.

One Response to “ Vodafone 360 Widgets ”

Comment by Cathy

Yay I’m immortalised on Bruce’s blog!

But really would love to get your hands on one of those handsets and see how you like them. Stay tuned!