One of the things I love most about Second Life is how the technology’s constantly developing. I got along with a classic avi for almost seven years, as the wonderful world of mesh grew all around me, before finally taking the plunge on my Slink body last June. A Catwa head soon followed, then a Bento AO, lots of sophisticated poses and a L$7,000 photography HUD. Second Life has no shortage of impressive technology.
But, at the same time, in one very important way it’s technologically backwards. If you want to get the most out of SL – to explore more than a tiny fraction of its possibilities, really – you need to be sitting at a real computer.
Going by the demographics of SL users, the chances are you’re sitting at a real computer, reading this blog and thinking “So what’s the problem with that?” The problem is that a lot of people now, especially younger ones, are more used to using mobile devices than a desktop or laptop. They don’t want to be tied to a computer; they want to be able to do stuff on their phone or tablet.
Second Life is the biggest, most intricate and best established virtual world by a long way, but it isn’t the only one. It has competitors, and rivals like IMVU and Avakin life have one advantage – they can be accessed easily through mobile devices. They might offer a fraction of what SL does, but for younger users that’s outweighed by the ability to get inworld on their favourite devices.
Mobile SL – is it possible?
Teens and other mobile-using young people make up a vast population of potential residents, but the lack of a real mobile option puts Second Life at a disadvantage in attracting them. Linden Labs are aware of this and have made attempts at developing a mobile viewer in the past, but none of them have ever gone anywhere. There are a couple of third-party mobile viewers on the market, and they have their fans, but they also have serious limitations.
- Mobile Grid Client is probably the most widely used mobile SL viewer – although it’s stretching the point to call it a viewer at all. An Android app that runs on phones and tablets, it lets you see who’s nearby and what friends are online, change your active group, talk in local chat or IM, and view the local map. You can accept teleport offers and access your inventory. What you can’t do is get a 3D view of the world. That makes it fine for keeping in touch with friends when you’re away from home, but not a lot of use for most of the things you want to do in SL. On the bright side, it’s free.
- Lumiya is a more versatile Android viewer. It’s not free – it costs €3.09, or a bit less than $4 – but in exchange for that you get all the features of Mobile Grid Client plus a 3D viewer. Does it have all the features of a full desktop viewer? No. Does it let you get around in SL, interact with your inventory and most objects and see the world in reasonable detail? Yes it does.
Both these apps are showing their age, though, and modern mobile devices have the processing power to do much more than either of them allows. There’s definitely an opening for a mobile viewer that gives a richer SL experience, and now it looks like Linden Labs may be having another shot at making one.
So what’s new?
Last August, tech blogger Wagner James Au speculated that Linden Labs were working on new mobile apps. He based this on a job listing posted on the Linden website, looking for someone to “deliver a compelling, responsive mobile interface into Second Life” – so not exactly a wild stab in the dark. Linden Labs didn’t reveal any more at the time, but since then details have begun to emerge.
Another blog post on the 9th of January, this time by Inara Pey, turned up evidence that LL were actively working on code for an iOS client. Pey also revealed details of a Town Hall meeting where mobile clients were discussed in more detail. Next day Pey reported that Linden Labs had confirmed they were working on an iOS client. As Pey noted, what was interesting is that Brett Linden told her they were looking at mobile platforms, and cited the iOS app as an example of what was in development.
You don’t have to be Sherlock Holmes to work out that Android owners are being looked after as well. You never know; there might even be something for Windows phone users. Well OK, the Windows phone user, which is me.
This is a very exciting development for everyone who loves Second Life. Yes, Linden Labs have looked at mobile viewers before, but now they’re just too big a chunk of the potential market to be ignored. It’s still likely to be at least 18 months before we can get our hands on a modern and official iOS or Android SL app, but we can be pretty confident they’re coming.