MobileNews

The age of mobile web apps dawns

Rob Chandhok of Qualcomm discusses the change in the traditional web apps environment and how the increased uptake of HTML5 will allow greater connectivity and an all-round improved end-user experience

Smartphones. Tablets. 4G. Smart TVs. The Internet of Things. Wireless technology advances are accelerating at the speed of light. Innovation in software, services, and end-user experiences are defined with mobility as the main driver. And all this momentum is having a direct impact on how the wireless industry thinks about the mobile web experience. 

Efforts to improve the mobile web experience are now at the forefront of software priorities for the entire wireless ecosystem. As a result, today mobile browsers are providing vastly improved user experiences compared to just two years ago. And the implications?   

The next generation of HTML5 apps that give users a 'native' experience, while helping reduce fragmentation and making the lives of developers much easier. This is the next big chapter in mobile software.

As the mobile web continues to advance at a rapid pace, an increasing number of features are being added to the mobile browser, enabling feature parity with native app development.  Soon, developers will be able to write web apps that are on par with native app performance and functionality – including the same access to hardware features and resources that native app developers enjoy. And because browser standards are pervasive across computing platforms, developers will have to write far fewer versions of their apps.

Application platform

Consider with me, a moment, the traditional web and apps space. Without mobile, we wouldn’t break those apart. The world of consumer services in the traditional desktop computing space is the web. Native is saved for just a few types of activities. Where else but on the web can you easily change your application, publish it and promote it to a huge audience? 

Imagine how Facebook would have fared if, every time they wanted to revise the user interface, they had to get you to download a new piece of software to your computer – it wouldn’t have taken off. The simplicity that the web offers as an application platform vs the native paradigm is even more compelling in the mobile space because the constraints in mobile are greater.

All that is required for the shift from native to web apps in mobile is to provide developers the ability to write web apps that have the same power and functionality as native. This is now beginning to happen. APIs (application programming interfaces) that allow developers to write web apps (essentially a purpose-built web page) with functionality on par with native apps will begin to become available this year.

End users won’t know the difference or care. Already today, many 'native' apps on mobile are just web apps in a wrapper that allows the app to conform to the app store paradigm of discover, pay, download, install, launch. But moving to web apps breaks the existing app store duopoly. An app can be acquired from anywhere on the web, discovered through the browser and monetised independent of OS- or service provider-tied app stores.

But wait, web requires connectivity and native gives the user the ability to work offline, right?  That distinction is gone now too thanks to HTML5. Via the spec’s offline mode, web apps can work offline just like native apps can. And consider, virtually all native apps on mobile are actively grabbing data from the internet whenever they’re connected. This offline vs online, native vs web distinction is meaningless today.

So, are we going to see a hard cutover in mobile from native apps to web apps? No. We are simply going to see more and more of what is already happening – blurring of the lines between native and web apps, blended development strategies in which an app is both native and web. But the momentum is clearly tilted toward web apps. Eventually, everything but the most hard-core applications in mobile will be web apps.  And the most pervasive computing platform in history – mobile – will open up to the largest population of developers on the planet – web developers.

The ultimate beneficiaries of this shift will be consumers as they enjoy easy and ubiquitous access to a completely interconnected world – in their pocket.

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