MobileNews

Dev slams mobile web apps as “slow”

Argues JavaScript should be used “very sparingly” and says discussions need to improve

iOS developer Drew Crawford has penned an extensive blog post, slamming web apps as being slow on mobile but also heavily criticising online discussions on the subject. He suggested they were too often lacking in facts, and he therefore attempted to bring evidence to the problem “instead of just doing the shouting match thing”.

Crawford claimed his article wasn’t necessarily intended to convince anyone, but was peppered with citations and comparative analysis. In terms of basic benchmarking, he showed how the iPhone 4S compares poorly with desktop browsers from 2010, with the exception of Internet Explorer 8 – which Google Wave at the time didn’t support because it was too slow. His point was that a developer's frame of reference must be realistic about the relatively poor performance of such mobile devices when it comes to JavaScript.

Crawford also thought the argument JavaScript would continue to rapidly speed up wasn’t well argued, and that recent gains were “not in the order of magnitude that will close the gap with native code, in any reasonable amount of time”. In Crawford’s estimation, the most viable path for improvement is “pushing the hardware to desktop-level performance”, which would require a “pretty long wait”. He admitted asm.js shows promise, but even if that technology won out, it would be wildly different from the JavaScript used today.

Beyond this, Crawford left readers to decide on conclusions regarding development paths, platforms and technology, but he did hope any further discussion would focus heavily on facts rather than anecdotal evidence. “There have been enough [Hacker News] comments about ‘I wrote a web app one time and it was fine’. There has been enough bikeshedding about whether Facebook was right or wrong to choose HTML5 or native apps,” he said. “The task that remains for us is to quantify specifically how both the mobile web and the native ecosystem can get better, and then, you know, do something about it. You know – what software developers do.”

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