Do iOS users really want mobile web applications?

Do iOS users really want mobile web applications?

Summary: Should apps go native or web wild? It's a complex proposition for some developers.

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I recently wrote several posts on native clients for RSS reading and management following the announcement that Google would kill its aggregation service and Google Reader. A number of developers and readers pointed me to web applications, while others announced forthcoming iOS-native clients. Which approach is better?

Petr Kral, co-founder of Skimr, wrote to say that the company is also planning to release native clients. I asked him about the rationale. He said the cause isn't as much technological as demand on the customer side.

Kral said that he recalled the 2007 announcement of iPhone application solutions at the Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC). Some developers were disappointed in the lack of an SDK for native applications, rather than the Web 2.0 approach voiced by Apple management.

I can remember Scott Forstall taking the stage and talking about apps — web apps, that is. Developers were supposed to create these for the iOS platform. They would have all the benefits that web apps inherently have (immediate updates, etc). That was before Apple allowed developers to create native apps.

It made perfect sense. I was just that the browser technology was not quite there yet at the time of the announcement. Apple was simply too early.

In March 2008, Apple rolled out its App Store and detailed the road map for its iOS SDK. At the time, John Doerr, the Silicon Valley legendary venture capitalist, said that iOS was the "creation of the third great computing platform".

Today, we're witnessing history: That's the launching of the SDK, the creation of the third great platform, the iPhone and the iPod touch. Think about it. What the iPhone is all about is in your pocket, you have something that's broadband, and connected all the time. It's persona, it knows who you are and where you are. That's a big deal, a really big deal. It's bigger than the personal computer.

However, Kral says that while customers and mobile device makers now see native apps as being faster, better, and more responsive, the web app is quickly attaining parity. He pointed to projects such as famo.us as a prime example.

When we were building Skimr, we just couldn't see a real benefit that a native app would bring. After all, Skimr is a very simple service. Turns out we were quite naive. Users demand native apps! So, we decided to give them what they request.

We have solid product plan, and some of the features that users are requesting go against it [the plan], so we reject them. But a native app is just a distribution method, really, so there is no harm in creating a few of these. It will just take some time.

Perhaps the selection of the approach depends on the application and its expectations from users? A simple content application, such as Skimr or a sports stats app, may come closer to the advantages of web apps than a complex app that wants connections with hardware-only services such as GPS, and photos or video streams from cameras. Developers also need to consider whether their app needs to take advantage of software and network services such as notification services, which can only be accessed through a native application.

All in all, my bet is that a few years from now (maybe sooner), users won't be able to tell a difference between a native app and a web-based app and it will really come down to what will be the preferred solution of a given developer (cost, time to market).

Note that I'm not going into monetization here. Now, I prefer paying for updates and not have advertisements clogging my interface. Developers have to figure that part out.

Topics: Apple, iOS, iPhone, iPad, Mobile OS, Mobility, Software Development

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12 comments
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  • IOS Users Seem To Prefer Web, Android Users Prefer Native Apps

    Web traffic figures show disproportionate traffic by IOS users compared to Android, given the known popularities of the respective platforms. The only explanation seems to be that IOS users are primarily using their devices as feature phones, rather than making much use of apps. Maybe because the apps cost so much more compared to Android.
    ldo17
    • Except one problem with that.

      App usage and app revenu is also substantially higher on iOS as well. This points to Android being nothing but a feature phone replacement (also noted that over 50% of Android handsets are 3.5" devices with 320X480 pixel displays and smaller) for the vast majority of users.

      The real answer is iOS users use their devices far more than Android users. Nice try on omitting a datapoint to justify a position.
      Bruizer
      • hello

        hello Mr. FUD
        theoilman
        • Android users hate real data.

          They here 65% market share and conclude 65% equate to all GSII, GSIII, GN, GNII or similar class devices.
          Bruizer
    • with all due respect

      If you take into account the revenue generation from the App Store (apple), you'll see that apps are seeing more success by a significant margin compared to other platforms. That has to say something right? I'm not saying android is mostly used as a feature phone platform. I believe the culprit is the fact that almost half of the android devices are running Stone Age android versions that are not as app friendly as the jelly bean versions. Calling either of the platforms (considering you're comparing the latest versions) feature phones would be largely ignorant...
      Zami90
  • FFOS, Ubuntu touch, and Tizen

    will all support HTML5 as native. when they come out devs won't have to choose between web or native- 1 set of code will be both. I can easily see this pushing iOS and android to catch up by adding HW hooks for web based apps. should be easier for android since they can reuse a lot of the code and APIs made by Mozilla for FFOS.
    theoilman
    • Add Windows 8 to that list.

      Windows 8 also embraces HTML5 apps that can be compiled and delivered through the MS STore.
      gomigomijunk
  • BlackBerry 10 Web Applications

    Are often indistinguishable from native apps, and this is by design. A great example of that is the BlackBerry 10 browser, which I'm writing this in, is build entirely using HTML5 and some JavaScript, it has a higher HTML5 compatibility score than any desktop browser (486 and 11 bonus points if I remember correctly) and the best HTML5 compatibility score anywhere. Period. It is also as responsive and fast as any native Cascades app, 1st or 3rd party. So, users can't tell the difference between HTML5 and native now, just not on iOS. This is happening on other platforms too, Ubuntu touch, Firefox mobile, Jolla Sailfish, and Tizen 2 are some good examples. I think iOS is starting to fall quite majorly behind in this regard.
    Sam14.8
    • Re: the BlackBerry 10 browser ... is build entirely using HTML5

      If the browser is built using HTML5, then what software is interpreting this HTML5 so that the browser can run?

      This is complete nonsense. Whoever invented that marketing gimmick should change it. It is the browser, that interprets HTML (including HTML5).
      danbi
      • I don't think

        you get what native code is. the OS is interpreting the HTML5 code.
        theoilman
      • lol

        You have already been addressed in this matter but let me further explain. What happens is this, the operating system usually has its own native browser written in e base code c++ or variant, everything that you see in Firefox os is a webpage. Your desktop for example is a webpage. The JavaScript interpreter is modified to allow access to native functions. Therefore a browser can be made very easily with its own interpreters and own features. While your statement as true or older thinking, ECMA script will be the new main programming language everywhere.
        Dave Klier
  • web apps will win when they start forming the alliances

    Web sites were always somewhat slower than the native apps and always had limited access to machine's devices. What they were good at is two things: links and lower barrier to entry for novices.

    Mobile Web apps are really hard to create as they must withstand constant network fluctuations and disconnects. And Web was never good at that in the past. But today it is feasable. We need an app builder that opens this capability (and more) to those who can't code. Secondly, webapps need to take the hyper-linking to the next level. Web apps should create a network, allowing each app to provide one function only, yet expanding to inifinity via app interconnections. With such app aliances native apps will stand no chance. Shameless plug - join out open source project on github to take the web back: http://github.com/urbien/urbini
    Gene Vayngrib