The Rise of the Smart Client

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Traditionally, there have always been two distinct theories when exploring the capabilities of mobile computing software: thick-client and thin-client. Mobile thick-client applications require a piece of software to be installed on the device on which it runs. Conversely, wireless thin-client applications do not require any additional software assuming there is a standard browser.

Consumers have often leaned toward thin-client applications for their mobile computing needs due to ease of use and the lack of any software installation, saving them valuable memory and time. However, these applications have been plagued with unreliability and poor interactivity. These two aspects alone have been enough for the enterprise community to primarily utilize mobile thick-client applications. Additionally, thick-client applications require significantly fewer steps to launch, increasing the end usability.

Both sides of the wireless application spectrum seem to have their strong points. Thin-client applications leverage their online connectivity to provide dynamic, real-time content. Thick-client applications provide reliable, on-demand, real-world solutions without the need for an internet connection. However, until recently, no one had leveraged the positive aspects of both platforms.

Driven by advances in software distribution architectures and device management systems, a hybrid approach called a “smart client†was born. By sensing the availability of a network, the smart client can use online connectivity where available; yet still harness data local to the device when there is not. So while some functionality is lost when an internet connection is not feasible, the application continues to run and perform the tasks that it is still able to do without connectivity. Thus, the smart client is a productivity tool whether or not the user can obtain internet access.

Smart client software received its biggest compliment when, within the last year, both Microsoft and Google released smart client mobile versions of their Web 2.0 applications: Microsoft’s Live Search, and Google’s Maps and Gmail applications. By leveraging both online and offline features, these applications have increased interactivity, speed, and improved the overall user experience. The loss of connectivity is handled quite well, as operation continues, albeit on a somewhat limited basis. Nevertheless, the user is able to reap the benefits of both thin and thick-client software.

Smart client technology may one day become unnecessary as huge Wi-Fi networks become more and more ubiquitous. However, until users are able to access the internet from anywhere in the world and at anytime, there will most certainly be a need and a market for smart client software. Perhaps what may happen in the future is that software installed to device hard drives will be constantly updated to provide dynamic, real-time content on a constant basis. The framework for such software appears inherent to smart clients. With the rising prominence of “push†email and online content, smart clients may lay the groundwork for the future of computing software.

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