Google has released the first mobile version of its Google Gears web browser plug-in for rich Internet applications. The initial version of Google Gears for mobile is intended for use with Internet Explorer Mobile on Windows Mobile 5 and 6 devices.
Google Gears enables offline access to web applications by allowing them to cache data on the device - in this case a mobile phone - through a SQLite-based database engine that periodically synchronises with the service when connected.
Amid last week's fanfare surrounding the launch of Microsoft's multimedia-centric Silverlight rich Internet application (RIA) platform for Nokia's mobile device platforms and its own Windows Mobile, Google Gears mobile slipped out rather quietly.
Whereas Silverlight is a complete RIA framework (as is Adobe's RIA - although no mobile version of that technology has yet been announced), Google Gears is simply a web browser plug-in. However, they both point towards a similar future.
Together they demonstrate many of the important features of rich mobile applications (RMAs - the mobile incarnation of RIAs): namely, graphically rich presentation, lightweight programming models (at least on the device-side) and disconnected working.
Vitally, while neither product can yet be considered a complete client-side environment RMAs - due to Silverlight's limited offline support and Google Gears' lack of multimedia capability (it relies on the browser to deliver these) - both are reasonably assured of solid device-side support in the longer term. Microsoft can be expected to extend Silverlight to additional handset software platforms, while Google's Android platform will no doubt support Gears.
The growing installed base for these technologies on mobile devices will make them obvious targets for future RMAs, whether launched by media companies, webcos, enterprises or operators. This will increasingly be at the expense of proprietary client technologies, such as those offered by so-called on-device (ODP) portal vendors.
RMA attention can then shift to the back end, where services will need to be aggregated and provisioned to a small number of client technologies. This is where the real challenges and opportunities lie.
For now, at least, Google Gears for mobile's focus is on enabling disconnected working of existing web applications. In this regard, its state of readiness is someway ahead of that of mobile Silverlight with the plug-in already available for download and application support already in place. Online office suite provider Zoho and personal finance service Buxfer are already backing the technology.
The launch of the first version of Google Gears for mobile may have been low key but it is another important foundation stone in bringing the web and mobile closer together.