Why native apps will lose

21 Jul

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We live in an app universe.  We live in a mobile devices universe.  Have you seen an Apple commercial lately?  There’s an app for almost anything on our phones these days.  However, not all apps are the same.  We like to group them into two categories, native and web.

A native app is an app that is installed on the device, for the iPhone this could me Mail, Notes, or any app you download from the iTunes App Store.  These apps usually offer users a better experience, because the operating system has control over how they are presented to users.  As an iPhone user, I’ve become used to the way apps are downloaded, the way they open, the way they update, the way they present notifications, the way they close, the way they enter the background and multitask, and a multitude of other details.  It is this familiarity that makes iPhone apps so pleasant.  I know that when I open the App Store and download the latest hot app, I will interact with it exactly the same way I do with all of my other apps.

Native apps are also nice because they are closer to the hardware than mobile web apps.  Processor intensive apps such as apps with rich graphics and animations just work and perform better natively because they can interact more closely with the GPU and processor.  This is one of the biggest hurdles to the uprising of the mobile web app seeing as how 20% of apps in the iTunes app store are games.

Enter Sencha Touch and SproutCore.  These two technologies essentially make it very easy for app developers to create web apps that function just like their native app counterparts by giving them access to the hardware (I will spare the details, but feel free to ask me if interested).  Imagine I’m facebook, and I want to create an app so that people can use facebook on their phones.  I have to make an app for the iOS devices, an app for Android devices, an app for webOS devices, an app for Blackberry devices and so on…

Or I could just make a mobile-optimized web app, an app that people access through a browser like Safari, Firefox, Chrome, and Internet Explorer from their phone.  And with the addition of these new frameworks, I can make some pretty sick apps in the browser that allow me to do cool things like detect touches, drags, swipes, pans, and do graphically intensive processes across all mobile platforms (eventually).

I predict these two technologies and others like them will usher in a new era of web apps for mobile platforms.  The development cost for a web app will be significantly lower than that of a native app.  The potential audience of a web app will be significantly higher than that of a native app.  It therefore makes sense for companies to start focusing their development efforts on mobile optimized web apps.  Over time, the web app will dominate, the native app will lose.

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