Our guest blogger, Matt Topper, is a friend of the Lab, an ex-Oracle Ace, turned Oracle employee who always has something to say. He’s currently running the identity management team for Oracle’s National Security group, playing with Collok in his free time to fix the conference experience.
The other day Eddie tweeted that he was installing the new Facebook on his iPhone. It got me to thinking about why so many of the Web 2.0-type sites are developing custom iPhone applications instead of building a mobile version of their website. I remember Kevin Rose talking about Digg’s iPhone application, a simple web app, instead of a custom Cocoa application. It took them less than 48 hours to roll out the slimmed down web based interface, I can guarantee if it was a native iPhone app it would have taken much longer.
In going through the list of apps on my phone I realized that nearly 20% are traditional web applications thinly disguised as “custom” apps. I can understand the games, notes, and calculator apps being thick, but what about Facebook, LinkedIn, Wikipanion, Sportacular and even Twinkle (twitter).
It just seems that the development resources for those apps would have been much better off staying with what they are good at…building web applications with a slimmed down interface to run over Safari. Instead they learned a new language, probably had to add additional APIs, ran the risk of Apple rejecting their app, and then dealing with the app store. They have to add another layer to track readership, integrate a new ads platform to pay for their app, etc., etc., etc. I just seems like a lot of work for little reward. Yes they get the distribution and the “coolness” factor of the Apps Store, but how hard would it be for Apple to create “Certified Web Apps.”
With the launch of Android and the strong presence of Symbian on the Nokia phones in Europe, thats four separate platforms (plus the countless others, PPC, Palm, J2ME, etc.) that developers have to learn, maintain code, provide support, the list goes on. It’s quickly going to develop into a major headache for most of these companies, most of whom could just extend the controllers and views of their existing apps based on the HTTP request User Agent.
I don’t know, maybe its just me, but I tend to look towards the long term effects of developing additional software interfaces instead of jumping on the bandwagon of the next cool thing. If it makes sense and drastically improves the user experience I’m all for it, but none of these apps have anything to offer over their web based cousin. Maybe faster load times, maybe caching of images and authentication data, but that’s not enough to sell me.
Don’t get me wrong, there is definitely a place for thick apps on the iPhone. Google Maps is definitely a good example of that, then again, with the W3C Geolocation API and the integration into Google Gears that might be going away too. Feel free to call me crazy and point out the pieces I forgot. I just feel that its the start of a slippery path that ultimately ends up with dissatisfied users and too much code to maintain. Hopefully I don’t stir up too much trouble and the AppsLab guys invite me back for more guest blogs in the future.