{ by david linsin }

March 08, 2010

Is the Future of Mobile Apps the Web?

The Mobile Times 2010 conference in Dusseldorf, which took place last Thursday, featured a lot of talks on how to do approach cross platform development. A lot of them suggested web development technics as a way to escape native vendor lock-in, such as Apple's iPhone OS.

There are mainly two approaches:

1. You develop a web site using HTML, JavaScript and CSS zip it and deploy it together with a Player

2. Or you develop a custom website which is served from your servers

The first approach is usually tackled using a framework such as PhoneGap. It event provides an API to include platform specific functionality such as GPS in your application.

The second approach either uses traditional web development technics or targets a specific browser, such as WebKit. One example is jQTouch, a jQuery plugin with cross platform support - unfortunately only WebKit.

The presentations, advocating those two approaches, mentioned mainly two advantages:

1. No need to comply with platform policies (think of Apple's App Store)

2. And you can leverage cheap web coding skills

Those are the facts, I collected during Mobile Times 2010. Unfortunately, the benefits using the web development approaches were not really balanced by any downsides.

I really doubt that the web development approach is the way to go in terms of cross platform mobile app development. I think frameworks like PhoneGap are doing an awesome job, putting an abstraction around the native platform.

Unfortunately you get the least denominator of your platform is capable of and that's a real downside to me. If I put on "average Joe head", I want an app that is using the full potential of my phone. I don't care that it was cheaper to develop a web-based solution and I definitely don't care that the framework I'm using is only offering partial support for my phone features.

Another problem is platform defragmentation! I won't go into it - don't worry - I simply want to point out one downside: In my humble opinion, it is not possible with web development technics to "write once, run anywhere"! You will have to tweak the CSS and work around the abstractions of the framework your are using! It might be cheaper, because we all know that the average web development frickler (amateur craftsman), only charges what he deserves. However, I don't think it gets you anywhere in the long run.

I think we shouldn't approach mobile application development with only the engineering side in mind. Instead we should rather focus on the customer and what he asks from a mobile app. I think the success of the App Store has proven that native apps are the way to go, even if they mean more effort on the development side.


Anonymous said...

I agree.
Another aspect is that most of the vendors are jumping on the 'App-shop' wagon. This means that your competitor is displayed right near your app and the people interested will just glance over the features and the visual appeal.
IMHO most times, the native apps will be on top of the corrensponding list.

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