It seems that running virtual worlds on your desktop computer or laptop is not enough for many, how else can you explain that there are so many approaches to run a client for the trademarked world of Second Life on a handheld device such as your mobile phone? There seem to be even more mobile clients around than desktop clients (well, it depends how you count and what you call a separate client). Of course a mobile client does not need to do that much (mostly communication) but then again you might wonder why then there is not a good, easy to use client just for doing communications which is somewhat popular.
But anyway, mobile seems to be growing and I just heard about the beta release of yet another one so I though I make a list of clients available right now.
Aqros Mobile SL messenger
The client which just opened it’s beta to the public is called Aqros Mobile SL messenger, developed by Israel based startup Aqros (previously GamearraY). This time it’s not a graphics based application but it’s a text based one completely.
What is supports is seeing your friends list with online status, sending and receiving instant messages, seeing a list of people being around you, chat with them, search for places and people, teleport to places and offer teleport to others, send SMS messages to your SL friends to wake them up (because you have to give your phone number to get the software they know your phone number, something which should be discussed in terms of DataPortability and control), add friends, add landmark and more.
Here is a little video showing how it works:
Unclear to me is right now whether it logs in directly via your mobile phone and everything runs on that or if the application delegates everything to the Aqros server and this does the actual login. I asked on the forum and hope to hear back. Having a proxied solution might not be the ideal situation here.
Unfortunately it also did not work when entering my mobile phone brand and there also seems to be no list of supported phones right now.
If you want to check it out, you can download the beta,is now open and you can get it on this page.
The Comverse iPhone client
The Comverse client which you can see in the video below is a graphical client. It works by doing all the protocol and 3D work on a server and just streaming the picture to the iPhone. This makes sense I guess as long as hard- and software on mobile devices is not that capable of doing it on their own. Unfortunately the website of Comverse gives zero information and indeed seems to be one of those old school sites which haven’t heard yet about New Marketing (where’s da blog, man? where is your personal contact?).
As this seems only to be some proof of concept, the question is when and if this will be released. Interestingly there also was talk about this one year earlier, in February 2007, when Reuters reported on their first experiments with bringing Second Life to the mobile device.
Here is the demo from the Mobile World Congress in February 2008:
The Vollee client
Another client done by mobile gaming company Vollee. It’s in beta right now and you can download it here (again you have to give out your phone number unfortunately). It supports about 40 handsets right now and of course iPhone support is planned. Good news is that it also seems to work with my K850i :-)
The technology behind that seems to be similar to the Comverse solution though, running the actual PC client on a server and streaming the output to your mobile. Of course you can argue then that it isn’t a really new client. It also results in a somewhat bigger latency of course.
For a little demo check out this post by eightbar or watch this video:
While I think streamed solutions are for now what is possible with today’s mobile devices this of course has some disadvantages as that you have to stream your data always through a third party or that the whole approach is somewhat slow. Here a text only approach might be better to circumvent this but then again typing on mobile devices is not fun.
Should devices become more capable of doing 3D and getting more computing power in general such streaming solutions should not be needed anymore. Writing a complete Second Life client with graphics from scratch is nevertheless not a simple task. Streaming should be easier.
But things in general should also become easier on a protocol level as the Open Grid Protocol is evolving. With this protocol vendors will have a more defined and documented protocol in which many functions should also be easier to use as we are moving more and more towards HTTP instead of using UDP packets. As most likely many open source project will grow around this protocol having access to libraries should be no problem (in fact I am personally working on one of these with Linden Lab and others, called pyogp).
Another idea in this field is what AJAXLife is doing, providing chat, inventory etc. by a simple AJAX interface. This might already run today on some mobile browsers but I guess with an even more adapted version you should already be able to use Second Life in text form from within a browser on your mobile device.
The question is also what business model those companies mentioned above are pursuing. None of the solutions is open source and thus I would expect them to let people pay for their service at some point. If people will do that is another question because the experience is not that great yet. But it’s definitely pointing into the right direction.