Native Apps, or Web Apps? It’s the great debate of the mobile world right now, essentially fueling the platform wars from behind the scenes. Palm took the Web App route with the Pre and webOS, though with the SDK just now available to all its a bit too early to gauge that decision. The iPhone began its life with Web Apps, only to later open up native support and become the apotheosis of how app development and distribution can be done. Even Google, who will try to jam just about anything into the cloud, is putting a lot of weight behind running things locally on their Android platform.
Still, Google VP of Engineering Vic Gundotra says Web Apps are the way.
During a panel at Mobilebeat 2009, Gundotra put his full support behind the Web:
“We believe the web has won and over the next several years, the browser, for economic reasons almost, will become the platform that matters and certainly that’s where Google is investing.”
For developers currently accustomed to developing in Objective-C or J2ME, this might sound like crazy talk; in its current state, the only time we turn to the mobile web for app development is for the most basic of services. Twitter client? Sure. Complex 3D games? Yeah, probably not.
But that could very well change. With the advancement of HTML5 and Web App-centric SDK’s like Palm’s Mojo, the limitations are dwindling. Inch by inch, function by function, handset functionality is becoming web accessible. Already, some handsets are allowing applications to tie into their accelerometers and GPS receivers. As mobile broadband speeds increase and APIs are opened up, what’s really to keep us from piping those complex 3D games from afar?
To think that applications are always going to be completely locally ran is short-sighted; once the functionality of web-based applications is on par with that of native applications, the line blurs. Once the consumer can’t tell the difference between something running on their handset and something coming off the web, they stop caring. If the consumer is no longer resisting, the advantages of web apps, such as instant deployment and simplified cross compatibility, are too great to pass up.
Vic Gundotra acknowledged Apple’s move from Web App to Native, implying that Apple was simply a bit ahead of the times:
“I think Steve [Jobs] really did understand that, over the long term, it would be the web, and I think that’s how things will play out.”
We’d agree with Vic here. It’s not going to happen tomorrow, nor even in the next year – but the short list of reasons to develop natively is growing shorter each day.