Amazon's Browser-Based Kindle Gives CIOs Hope

Hope that they won’t necessarily have to drown in a sea of device-specific mobile apps. Here’s why.
It's not now, and won't likely ever be, time to declare the "death of apps" on tablets and smartphones. But CIOs struggling with how to provide access to enterprise data on mobile devices should take note of Amazon's new option to read Kindle books online or offline in a browser.

Amazon has had a Web-based Kindle reader, so the concept isn't new, but this one relies on HTML5 to more closely mimic the experience and responsiveness of a downloadable app. For IT leaders weighing the app-versus-browser decision, it's the latest sign of where Web apps are headed. Amazon says HTML5 lets it build one app that "automatically adapts to the platform you're using." For now, though, Amazon only has the Kindle app ready for Safari (including the iPad) and Chrome browsers, but with more browsers, including Internet Explorer to come. It doesn't yet work with the iPhone.

Mobility is the most often-cited software priority for IT leaders, our latest research finds. My colleague Doug Henschen laid out this challenge back in February, saying CIOs can't be satisfied with providing work email on personal devices and instead must start building mobile connections for employees, and in some cases customers, into core back-end software, such as transactional and CRM systems. Doug's latest coverage of enterprise software keeps that pressure on CIOs to use mobile information to change long-standing business practices. Writes Doug:

"Putting dashboards, reports, and alerts right in front of business executives on their smartphones and tablets gives them access to information in an entirely new way."
But how to do that? Building custom apps or even supporting vendor apps on every employee’s mobile platform looks like the road to ruin, as the number of operating systems proliferates. While it's feasible today to back an iOS and Android and BlackBerry app, the operating system and mobile device options will only spiral upward.

The complexity will rise if enterprises move to more than one tablet. iPads have a lock on the (small but growing) enterprise tablet market today, since no rival has sufficiently answered the pivotal question: "Why wouldn't I just buy an iPad?" But Hewlett-Packard's recent 20% discount, rumblings about new form factors, or even Lenovo's addition of a simple pen-based option show that rival tablet makers are trying to differentiate their products to make a run at Apple.

A growing number of engaging browser-based apps would make it more viable to pick another tablet, since it wouldn't have to rely on an app library and developer support that pales in comparison to Apple's. Given the comparatively few apps written for WebOS, picking HP's tablet over an iPad today looks a lot like a $100 bet that Web apps will win. We've watched HTML5 mosey along the standards trail for years now, but apps like Amazon's are the latest example that the momentum is starting to build.

As CIOs face growing pressure to deliver mobile capabilities, they need to get away from device-specific software wherever they can, since the range of devices will only keep growing. With customer-facing apps, they need to go where the people are, and people want their Apple and Android apps for now, so IT doesn't have much choice but to deliver such apps for them. Internal apps, though, are another story.

There will continue to be solid cases for a user interface tuned to a device in some cases, where factors such as screen size and responsiveness dictate. But before racing off to provide employees an on-device app, the IT team should push back a bit, point to Amazon's latest offering, and ask: "Why wouldn't we do a web app?"

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