Jun 19

iOS, web apps, native and back again

At Apple’s World Wide Developer Conference (WWDC) in 2007, Steve Jobs came on stage to announce a launch date for the very first iPhone and to announce how developers would build applications for the iPhone. His announcement was that his suggested way of developing for the iPhone was to write web apps (it is a couple of minutes in). So what was the reaction to that?

Apparently the reaction in the room was lacklustre at the actual announcement: compare the clapping at “what about the developers” around 2 minutes in compared to the silence once Safari is announced as the solution. There are no big waves of applause from this announcement and apparently for those in the room it was met with a groan. The reaction from blogs was equally negative towards this direction. Some were positive about the direction taken.

Everyone pans Apple for this as their option. There is very little blog posts that appear to defend and support Apple in their stance of not having a native SDK and only providing a web “SDK”. Almost every bit of out spoken opinion out there seemed to point negativity towards the direction that Apple had taken. To be fair the initial release of the iPhone and it’s integration is primitive compared to what we have today with items like launcher integration being unavailable initially. However if you spend some time to review what Steve Jobs actually says it becomes more interesting. He states “we have been trying to come up with a solution to expand the capabilities of iPhone by letting developers write great apps for it and yet keep the iPhone reliable and secure”. It is this phrase that informs the future direction of the app store.

In 2008 Apple releases at first a beta in March with the announcement of the App Store with the first hint of “approval” for application. At WWDC2008 later in the year it’s finally released and the App Store is scheduled for it’s release in September of that year. In line with what Steve has said back in 2007, the App Store approval process and some rather strict guidelines for what they will accept. While some of the guidelines are arbitrary and awkward, they do appear to have successfully managed to limit the amount of malware and devious applications that have managed to make their way onto end user devices unlike Google’s Android Marketplace. Amazon with their App Store for Android have similar approval guidelines as well which seems to support Apple’s approach in part.

Since then Apple have increased their restrictions and adding requirements such as requiring in app purchases to at least be available via Apple’s own mechanism. Depending on what happens with the Lodsys case, it may turn out to be a case where you either use the supplied API or you have to deal with the patent issues.

However it appears that the Financial Times aren’t interested in trying to fight Apple at their App Store limitations and have gone back to 2007 and have developed a web app. It utilises local storage to make things faster on the device and it features a lot polish.

But for all of the noise generated about how evil Apple is, the Financial Times are the first group I have seen to actually put their money where their mouth is and released a HTML5 application that looms really good as the number of devices with Android on them explode, I am surprised that more people aren’t realising that web apps are the future of mobile development unless you war to loco yourself inside of apples iCloud. Web based applications also have the ability to target Android without requiring a rewrite and also any other platform that ships a decent web browser (e.g. WebOS or perhaps Windows Phone 7).

With over 300 different smart phone devices out there with a wide range of functionality, display sizes and resolutions. With native applications needing to target iOS, Android, WebOS, Playbook and Windows Phone 7 each with different code that is a significant development burden. With Windows 8 looking like it will implement HTML powered web apps then increasingly it is looming like HTML is not a bad place to put some skill development or professional development.

Perhaps it is back to Apple’s original much derided original direction – even if it was because their native SDK wasn’t available at the launch time of the first iPhone. It was even announced today that iOS5 will bring Nitro JavaScript, one of the speed ups to make web pages in Safari load faster, to the “homepage” apps of which the new Financial Times web app is now one. This means that with iOS5, the Financial Times will run even faster again.

But it begs the question, why would Apple make a mechanism that competes directly with their App Store run even faster?

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