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20110430 Saturday April 30, 2011

The mobile web, bookmarks and the apps they should be able to play with

Last year Marco Arment of Instapaper and Tumblr fame posted a plea to Apple with an open enhancement request to the Mobile Safari team for sane bookmarklet installation or alternatives. In it he detailed how mobile browsers such as mobile Safari on iPhones and iPads are second class citizens on the web. You can't build plug-ins for them or easily add bookmarklets (javascript you can invoke from the browser's bookmarks). Instapaper on iOS devices would greatly benefit from easier integration into with the device's browser. I went through the bookmarklet copy/paste exercise that Instapaper walks you through, it's definitely a world of pain. Well, I read this morning that it looks like Apple is answering him, perhaps. Maybe backhanding him.

Apple is apparently implementing their own "Reading List" feature that current speculation says is squarely aimed at Instapaper and Read It Later. This came out of a MacRumors report on early builds of Lion, the next version of Mac OS X. VentureBeat rightly supposes there will be complimentary features on iOS devices.

Like Marco, I'd like to be able to build apps that run natively on devices that can play more smoothly with the device's browser. While mobile SDKs may have support for running an embedded browser (AKA "web views") they're still crippled by having the main browser in it's own silo (and has been previously circulated, web view javascript engines are crippled in their own). Ideally what we're seeing isn't an assault on existing bookmark services but the harbinger of API's that will allow developers to integrate more of the browser's functionality. Certainly some things should continue to be closely sandboxed (e.g. browsing history visibility) or requires full disclosure and permission (e.g. access to the cookie jar). Privacy leaks, phishing attacks and other sorts of miscreant behavior should obviously be guarded against but bookmark additions seem like an easy thing to provide an API and safe user experience around.

As Delicious (and before them, Backflip RIP and good riddance) showed, bookmarks are significant social objects. Bookmarks are also a significant personal utility, much like an address book or calendar. I've often considered building an Instapaper or Read It Later type of app, I can't count the number of times I've found something I've wanted to read but didn't have time to read it that instance. Numerous efforts to build interesting things with bookmarks have risen and fallen (ma.gnolia.com) or stalled (sigh... xmarks, simpy). I'm convinced that the emergence of the mobile web and the native app ecosystems that play with them will create an abundance of new opportunities. But developers need to be enabled. Apple, please give us API's, not more silos!

( Apr 30 2011, 09:22:48 AM PDT ) Permalink