LinkedIn and FT fuel native vs web row

Two reports showcase ongoing experimentation within the field of mobile web apps. paidContent reports that the FT is switching off its iOS app, completing a transition it began last summer. The FT argued that it can't maintain features within the iOS app. Elsewhere, VentureBeat has reported on LinkedIn's iPad app essentially being a frame around an app built on web-standards. According to Kiran Prasad, who heads the company's mobile team, the app relies heavily on Node.js and is a "95 per cent" web app. "As long as we can make the experience fast enough, nobody can tell the difference. It still feels right," said Prasad.

Mobile developer Mark Kirby told .net that this gradual shift to web apps – even when they're under the guise of a native app – isn't surprising: "With each iPad release being more powerful, the experience on HTML5 apps can compete with the native experience. The limitation is perhaps not with frameworks, but the speed at which the iPad can execute the JavaScript code. That now seems to be very fast." Kirby added that web apps can also get around issues with Newsstand, such as "long download times, which don't run in the background, and large download sizes that require you to micro-manage magazines, deleting those you've finished, to conserve space."

However, iOS developer Matt Gemmell told us performance isn't a particularly relevant factor, because either 'native' or 'web' can be "good enough", and the same is largely true for 'look and feel'. "For me, the salient points are: native apps provide far richer functionality than – deliberately-limited, for security reasons – web-based applications; native apps provide a native look and feel for a fraction of the development effort of web apps, which must replicate and mimic those interfaces and behaviours; and native apps provide hardware and OS/ecosystem integration, but web apps reside in the 'poor cousin' category, forever lagging behind in those areas."

Gemmell said it's notable app-focused web frameworks "tend to expend considerable effort replicating APIs and features which are already available to native apps" and yet the converse isn't true "because native apps already have access to everything the web has to offer – web browsers themselves are just apps, after all." And while he admitted there are reasons in support of making a web app instead of a native one – cross-platform deployment, instant updates, maintaining control – you can never negate the essence of that sacrifice and compromise. "In a lot of cases, users may never notice – and that's great. But let's just not kid ourselves that that makes web apps and native apps somehow universally equivalent."

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