Yesterday, at Mobilize 2010, a conference organized by GigaOm on mobile technologies, there was a panel discussion on “Apps Vs Web: The Fight For The Future”, moderated by Dr. Phil Hendricks. They had panelists from both sides of the debate and it was one of the interesting panels based on my interests. Basically, the panelists were trying to dissect whether native applications will stay in a world where web is playing a more central role. I will briefly discuss what was said in the panel and try to expand on some of the arguments put forward by the panelists.
I will list out the handful of key takeaways from the panel and then proceed to offer my thoughts on the topic.
- Native Apps will stay because web apps cannot take complete advantage of the increasingly more powerful mobile phone hardware
- The counter point to the above claim is that with HTML 5 and modern browsers, web app can easily take control of hardware like GPS, Camera, Accelerometer, etc.
- Enterprise native apps will be with us for just 2+ years as enterprises move more towards web apps for better efficiency and cost savings
- The biggest pain point for web apps is the issue of discovery. Since the web apps lack a marketplace like Apple’s app store or Android marketplace, discovery is a big problem
- Networks are a bottleneck pushing against the web apps. With the increase in the speed and reliability of mobile broadband, this could change
I have written about this debate a few times in the past. My view on this issue is very straightforward. All I care about is the availability of my data in the cloud and an ability to tap into it from any device I want and from any location I want. It doesn’t matter to me if the interface I use is native app or web app. However, I do prefer web apps because
- It is standards based and, hence, more predictable experience
- It is platform independent. Since I need to use only the browser, I can access the web application from any desktop/laptop running any operating system and still get the same experience
- I don’t have to worry about the processing capability of any device before I think of using an app.
- If our data is going to live in the clouds as many of us expect, web based applications can easily break through the silos than native apps
- As a follow up to the previous point, the web as a platform evolves very fast (see the evolution from web of documents to web of data and the possibilities it opens up for us) and a web based application can keep up with this pace better than native applications
- To have a seamless experience with native applications, we need to have the apps running in the same way on all kinds of mobile platforms. With the big egos of the players involved, like the mobile OS vendors, telecoms, etc., there is no way we can have the seamless experience across all platforms with native app. Such a fragmentation could lead to data silos and speed bumps in our efficient workflow
Having said that we are far away from having web applications offering the same level of user experience as native apps. Even though browsers are getting more and more modern (in spite of the slow progress on the standardization front), we are still 2-3 years away from having a decent native app like user experience with the web browsers. Till then, native applications are going to stay and with increasing processing powers in the smartphones, there is no reason for them to vanish prematurely. In my opinion, there is a high likelihood of native applications moving away completely giving way to web applications in the future but it will take anything from 3-5 years before we see a complete annihilation of native apps by the web apps.
Before I finish this post, I want to throw in something for us to think. If my memory serves right, this was pointed out by one of the panelists or someone talking to me on the topic but it is very relevant to the debate. With the advent of hardware accelerated browsers where applications can easily tap into the processing power of the underlying hardware, does it makes any sense to use the term web apps when the local resources are consumed for delivering the experience? I would really love to hear readers thoughts on this topic.
For those who missed the event, here is the video of the panel.
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