Already, Google says it is readying a replacement for the Google Voice app that will offer exactly the same features as the rejected app—except that it will take the form of a specialized, iPhone-shaped Web page. For all intents and purposes, it will behave exactly the same as the app would have; you can even install it as an icon on your Home screen.
Well, it is not entirely surprising to me. The same thing happened to Google Latitude and they recently took the web app route too. Already, Jajah used the web app route to implement their telephony app. Let us take a look at the significance of these moves and try to understand the underlying dynamics.
Sometime back, I wrote a post titled Tapping the cloud for mobile nirvana. In that post, I had quoted a report that talked about the promise of web applications in the mobile market and argued that web applications helps developers unshackle the unfair restrictions put forward by mobile OS developers.
The mobile OS vendors are no different when it comes to imposing restrictions. Take the case of iPhone and every single developer, irrespective of whether they are an one person shop or big companies like Amazon or Google, has to agree to the terms imposed by Apple. Often, this results in cutting down on the features which are otherwise available. It is the same case with other mobile OSes too. Sometimes app vendors compromise and cut down some of the features before their app is even accepted by the mobile OS vendor.
This is exactly what is happening to Google and other iPhone app developers. Their fate is now closely tied to the whims and fancies of Apple. There are two ways to change that. One seems to be happening already and FCC is looking at the happenings at iPhone App store. But, it is an expensive and messy affair to go through the government route. There is a cheaper alternative that can be done within the confines of market forces without bringing in government. It is the web app route taken by some vendors like Google, Zoho (disclaimer: Zoho is the exclusive sponsor of this blog), Jajah, etc.. A web app based om open standards can unshackle the restrictions imposed by the OS and the browser vendors. With technologies like geo-location built into the browsers, it is easy to develop web apps that mirrors the native applications.
Well, the headline for the post mentions the SaaS factor. What about it? I have had a chance to debate with Brandon Watson of Microsoft couple of times. Once in the comments section of my post and once during the Structure 2009 conference. On both occasions, he was trying to convince me about S+S strategy of Microsoft and how we are wasting resources available in our computers and smartphones. His argument is that we should put these resources to use in order to offer a better user experience. I am not religious about the SaaS approach. For all I care, I want the data on the Cloud and be able to access it through a variety of devices including my refrigerator, microwave and key chain. I am not against S+S on principle but I am in favor of SaaS approach for more practical reasons.
- S+S means we have to develop app for many different OS platforms and processors. This puts too much burden on the vendors which is then transferred to customers in the form of expensive software
- The need to rely on software makes it less ubiquitous. I can’t access my data from my friend’s PC if he/she doesn’t have the app installed (everyone has a browser installed these days) and the corresponding web app of S+S vendors are too restrictive to complement the locally installed apps
- In some cases, the processing power is limited to only the power of the local device like PC or smartphones. Many of these vendors use the cloud for just data storage and the elasticity available in the SaaS apps for processing is not available in the locally installed apps
- More importantly, it is reliant on the whims and fancies of the OS vendor as in the case of Apple’s rejection of Google Latitude and Google Voice. Once you architect the service for S+S strategy, it becomes difficult to transform into a web app to get around the restrictions put forward by the OS vendor. But if you have a pure SaaS play, then the move to web app is relatively easy with no or minimal change to the app
The high handed tactics of certain proprietary vendors plus their high marketshare makes the SaaS approach more suitable than the S+S approach to the cloud. Unlike the healthcare discourse, I am all for rational discussions. If you think there is merit in the S+S approach and if you can debunk my arguments without throwing stones at me, feel free to jump in. I really want to hear from the proponents of S+S strategy.