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iPhone Web Apps Aren’t Dead

When Apple opened the App Store, I thought we’d seen the end of iPhone web apps. App Store apps are clearly technologically superior and have better access to the iPhone’s hardware (camera, location). Perhaps more importantly, developers can sell their applications, which is much more difficult (but not impossible) for web apps. For many applications, advertising isn’t a viable business model.

Since the opening of the App Store, I have seen a dip in traffic to my web apps and an increase in the number of people who e-mail me asking for an App Store version or for download instructions (half the time, they mean adding a bookmark icon to the home screen). But the bottom hasn’t fallen out of the web apps barrel. Web apps aren’t dead.

In spite of their many shortcomings compared to App Store apps, Web apps have several advantages. And Apple’s own policies have recently added several items to this list!

You’re not locked into Apple. You don’t need a Mac / Hackintosh to write a web app. You don’t need to learn Cocoa / Objective C to write a web app. Your web development skills are 100% applicable.

You’re not locked into mobile phones. Web apps can more easily become traditional web pages, and vice versa. A well-designed web app, will appropriate separation of presentation and business logic, can be quickly converted into a traditional web page meant to be viewed on the desktop. Similarly, a well-designed traditional web page can get a customized presentation layer to become a web app. Aren’t you glad you took the time to build your layers right?

You’re not locked into the iPhone. If Google’s Android OS takes off, this will be especially important. Likely, an iPhone-optimized web app won’t need a lot of changes to be usable on an Android-powered phone. If changes are necessary, the same principle of well-designed web applications can speed development and help with maintenance.

No F#&@$#%$ NDA. Talk about ’em all you like!

No developer’s program or license. Build web apps for free, distribute them for free.

No wait time on submissions, no rejected submissions. You can distribute your web app any way you like. If you want to go through through Apple’s web app directory, which is entirely optional, the review is casual and the terms are easy.

No sharing with Apple. You can keep 100% of your revenue.

No Jailbreaking. There are some great apps for Jailbroken phones, but I don’t think they will ever be mainstream alternatives to App Store apps or web apps. Ordinary people won’t “jailbreak,” even if it is extremely easy. Maybe it’s the name. Could we call it “cupcaking” maybe? “I cupcaked my iPhone to run Quake.”

Note: I think that these rules apply only to the iPhone, not the iPod Touch. The limited connectivity of the iPod Touch severely limits the usefulness of a web application. Clever developers have created some workarounds with queuing and caching, but I don’t see a bright future for growth in iPod Touch web apps – until we get our promised nationwide wireless Internet. I bet that would cost a lot less than $700 billion and have a strongly positive effect on the economy as well. In November, I will vote for the candidate that proposes universal wireless access over a Wall Street bailout.

I’m curious to see how the Google’s application marketplace will change the mobile application ecosystem. Will Google’s openness push Apple to be more open as well? Will the appearance of new platforms make people aware once again of the ability of web apps to bridge the gaps between those platforms? It’s why the Web was successful. We don’t have an Internet for PCs, an Internet for Macs, an Internet for UNIX. Why should we have an app store for just one phone?

Written by timwestover

September 24th, 2008 at 5:42 am

Posted in iPhone

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