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Mozilla is claiming that its new mobile web browser, currently dubbed Fennec, will spell the end of application stores for mobile phones because once developers start writing for it, apps will run on any platform and can bypass platform specific app stores. Yes, that's right, the old "write once, run anywhere" promise. It didn't work when Java gained popularity in the 90's, and I don't think it will work any better as the new decade dawns.

Ed Hansberry

December 21, 2009

2 Min Read

Mozilla is claiming that its new mobile web browser, currently dubbed Fennec, will spell the end of application stores for mobile phones because once developers start writing for it, apps will run on any platform and can bypass platform specific app stores. Yes, that's right, the old "write once, run anywhere" promise. It didn't work when Java gained popularity in the 90's, and I don't think it will work any better as the new decade dawns.PC Pro interviewed Jay Sullivan, the vice president of mobile at Mozilla. Mr. Sullivan claims that as developers get more frustrated with mobile app stores and the approval process, they will move their apps to the web. They won't have to fool with app approval nor with rewriting apps for the major mobile platforms, now numbered six.

"As developers get more frustrated with quality assurance, the amount of handsets they have to buy, whether their security updates will get past the iPhone approval process... I think they'll move to the web." I just don't see this happening. Many of you may recall that this is how the iPhone started out. For the first year, that was all you could do was get apps from the web. Native apps weren't supported until the second generation iPhone came out in 2008. Web based apps just cannot compete with code local on the device. I've never seen a web based app that ran half as well as when it was rewritten to run on a device, whether it is a phone or a PC. Further limiting the functionality of web based apps is the "write once, run anywhere" philosophy. Now you cannot take advantage of device specific features without either writing separate web apps or bloating up your app with code that can distinguish between the platforms and use their unique features. While possible, that isn't exactly "write once" and really isn't any different than just writing an app for a platform from the get-go. If you don't do that, then you just write an app to the lowest common denominator and that is really a crappy app. Java has its uses and there are lots of apps that are just fine in a web browser, but that number doesn't even begin to come close to 100% of apps. I'd suggest it is far less than 10% in fact. I welcome the coming of the mobile browser from Mozilla, but take it for what it is, a web browser. The app stores are safe and developers will still, for the foreseeable future, need to write apps specific to platforms.

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