Browser based apps or native apps? I am going to harp on the same topic I touched yesterday again but from the desktop angle. I apologize if it appears to be repetitive but I want to drive home this point again. To begin with, let me give some background on the debate and go on to highlight my point quoting a news that came out today as an example. As the world moves more and more towards SaaS, there is a debate raging between two different schools of thoughts in IT.
On one side are the SaaS guys who argue that when we can have an user experience similar to traditional desktop software on a browser, what is the need to buy expensive bloated applications. They argue that most of the desktop applications are now available as browser based applications and eventually the remaining categories of apps will also be made available on browsers. Under such a scenario, pushing a native app is a meaningless exercise. This is the pure SaaS argument made by vendors like Google, Zoho (disclaimer: Zoho is the exclusive sponsor of this blog) and others. The other school of thought is of the view that tapping the cloud is good but there is no point in not using the unused compute power available in the desktops, mobile phones, etc.. They argue that native apps tap into these unused resources to offer better user experience than the browser based apps. This is the S+S strategy dominated mainly by Microsoft and Apple.
Even though my personal choice is to have the data on the cloud and access it from whatever way I can, SaaS is very attractive to me because I don’t have to upgrade my device to keep up with the demands of native applications. Just look at the way native apps demand resources as they get upgraded to newer versions. Why do I have to spend money on powerful devices when I can get an experience almost similar to what I get from native apps? More importantly, the rate of innovation on browser based apps is much higher than what we see in the traditional desktop software. This fact can be seen in today’s Youtube announcement. They now support HD video up to 4096p (4096 x 3072), a video quality similar to iMAX movies.
Today at the VidCon 2010 conference, we announced support for videos shot in 4K (a reference resolution of 4096 x 3072), meaning that now we support original video resolution from 360p all the way up to 4096p. To give some perspective on the size of 4K, the ideal screen size for a 4K video is 25 feet; IMAX movies are projected through two 2k resolution projectors.
To give a further perspective on what this means in the traditional terms, I will quote the same article where they talk about the size of projectors that are needed to show such videos.
First off, video cameras that shoot in 4K aren’t cheap, and projectors that show videos in 4K are typically the size of a small refrigerator.
To view this on a browser without using any powerful desktop computers and high end software applications is definitely an innovation. This just goes on to show what we can achieve using browser in the future. Yes, today’s SaaS applications are still immature. Yes, today’s SaaS applications still can’t do everything a desktop application can do for us. But there is a higher rate of innovation on the SaaS side and it is just a matter of time before they catch up with desktop applications on the user experience angle. Remember, the desktop apps from a decade or two back? Think about how long it took for them to mature. Think about the rate of innovation on the desktop apps side. Compared to the kind of innovation we saw on the traditional software side, there is a much higher rate of innovation going on with browser based apps. Dismissing SaaS applications by comparing them to bloated desktop apps is naive at best.