About a month ago, I wrote that there are too many mobile platforms for developers to effectively keep up with. My answer was that there are too many platforms for smartphones, at least six at last count. What if the answer was quit building native apps and put everything on the web?That is exactly what John Allsopp proposes.
...for most developers (and businesses small and large), making a dedicated application for a specific platform such as the iPhone won't be worth the investment. It may sound a bit "old school" but for businesses with limited resources, the web is still the best platform for connecting with your customers.
He brings up some interesting points. Development tools for the web are cheaper, or simply free, the learning curve for a web app is not nearly as steep as it is for a native app, and there is no approval process to get it listed at the App Store, or any other application store. You just publish the web app yourself and spread the word.
For a number of apps, I agree, this is the way to go. There is no reason for Apple iPhone owners to be the only ones running such classics as iFart. That should be on the web and available to as many platforms as possible, both mobile and on servers in the company's back office.
That doesn't work so well though for some applications. One of my favorite apps is Laridian's PocketBible. This app has been a huge success on Windows Mobile devices for years. Actually, I think it is over a decade now. When the iPhone came out, there was a clamoring from the user base for a version for the iPhone. This was before there was an App Store, so the web was your only choice for development. Laridian developed a solid product for the iPhone. So solid they could charge for it with a minor monthly access fee. Demand was strong enough they had to beef up their servers.
Laridian kept adding features to take advantage of the iPhone UI, continuously improving it. Every time you connected, you were automatically using the new version that their server dished up.
There are two problems with the app though. First, in making it a world class iPhone app, the web code was so heavily customized for the iPhone all of the features wouldn't work on a different platform. It also didn't work at all when you had no connectivity. As you can imagine, this is a very popular app to use at church. I've been to a lot of different churches in the last few years and one thing that many seem to have in common is classrooms are downstairs, and it is easy to lose signal. My current church has very little signal in the auditorium, and what signal it does have is spotty. For these situations, WiFi is the only way to go. Depending on the size of your church and its IT staff, if any, will decide if there is a WiFi network and if it is open for general use or locked down for staff members only.
Now Laridian is working feverishly on a native app that resides on the device. It is in beta.
You see my point here, right? I am writing this blog on a plane, and there is no WiFi. That means no web apps on any platform. There are gaps in every carrier's network, even in areas that they claim to have good coverage in.
You should consider web apps when in the early stages of developing an application for the reasons Mr. Allsopp gave, and more. But you should also consider the downsides. Apps that need a very rich UI may not work as well if you have to dumb it down to the lowest common denominator for each device you plan to market to.
If this app is for your employees as they roam around your companies campus that is saturated with a WiFi signal, then web apps may be perfect. But if it is for employees that travel the country or world far and wide, signal can be as rare as a fresh cup of coffee on a transcontinental flight.