Making It a Mobile Web App

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Ask any interactive agency nowadays what their clients are asking for when they need a mobile experience — the answer will inevitably be “an iPhone and/or an iPad app.” Native Apple apps are a hot commodity, and in today’s mobile application ecosystem, mobile web apps are not sexy. In fact, many people don’t even realize they are even an option. In certain cases, an iPhone/iPad app will be the right solution for their needs.

However, there are some situations where it may become a short-term win, but eventually a long-term loss. Mobile web apps offer a good number of advantages over native apps; and though they face some design, development and deployment challenges, they are a powerful cross platform, scalable and affordable solution.

Increasing Fragmentation

Mobile apps are all the rage. There are a slew of startups targeting the iPad, countless entrepreneurs hacking together the next killer iPhone app, and it seems as though every big company has released an app of some sort. With the increasing penetration of Android phones, developers are scrambling to port their software.

But what about deploying to Windows Phone 7, Blackberry and Symbian? Who wants to study yet another SDK, learn another language, and go through yet another app submission process? Who will continue to keep the code up to date for all these platforms as each one splinters into new incarnations, releases new hardware and OS updates. Fragmentation is a costly long-term investment. And people are beginning to realize that native apps are not a sustainable long-term solution for all their needs.

Screenshot
GAP StyleMixer application for both iOS & Android

The Mobile Web is Everywhere

As the native mobile app market becomes increasingly fragmented, it is becoming clear that there needs to be a solution which can re-use code and designs across platforms, and which eases deployment headaches. But why invent a new solution, when it already exists on every device out there: the Web. Webkit1 is gaining ground as the de facto standard for rendering web content, but even Webkit isn’t appropriate for every application. It wouldn’t be recommended for experiences that need complex graphics rendering, require hooks into specific hardware such as camera or accelerometer, or have hefty media requirements.

Though these constraints will change over time. But for all other apps that don’t need these features, using the mobile web frees developers to use their web technology of choice, so long as it will render on mobile browsers. Design and develop once, deploy everywhere. With smart design and code, a single web app could render appropriately on differing resolutions and screen sizes, and respond accordingly to touch, 5-way or cursor. Indeed, frameworks for mobile web app development already exist, such as Sencha Touch2.

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Sencha Touch Mobile Web Development Framework

Old News

Desktop web apps are far from a new idea — Rich Internet apps have been around for a while. Google has been pushing in this direction for years, creating a broad suite of online tools, primarily for the desktop, with an increasing focus on mobile. However, web apps have been slow to gain traction in the mobile space. Even with Apple promoting mobile web apps as the next best thing on their 1st generation iPhone in 2007, the focus is still squarely on native apps. And the primary reason for this is due to the overwhelming success of Apple’s (native) App Store.

The App Store Model

Apple’s App Store was not the first to distribute native applications to mobile phones, but they proved it was a viable model, and launched the concept into popular culture. It’s this same model that would be necessary to make a mobile web app ecosystem successful.

Google's Android Market in Making It a Mobile Web App4
Foursquare App in Google’s Android Market

As a consumer, it’s more appealing to go to one trusted online outlet for stuff than to waste time searching the web for the same thing, and putting yourself at risk of being hacked. Mobile web apps need a consolidated storefront for much the same reasons.

First, it’s easy to find apps when they are indexed, categorized, and searchable in one place. Second, a robust community of users exposing app popularity, contributing ratings and writing reviews makes it easier to evaluate your choices. Third, when I’ve decided to buy a game such as Plants and Zombies, I want to be sure my purchase will be a safe one — something a robust app store from a recognized company should offer. And since a web app is cross-platform, you could play it on your Android phone, your iPad, and your desktop — all with a single purchase. Buy once, use anywhere. It’s magic!

As a business or developer creating web apps, a centralized web app store provides benefits over doing it solo. Most importantly, it provides a source of monetization. This is the key to driving adoption of a web app ecosystem, as without revenue, businesses and developers will stick with money-making native apps. It’s also a marketing channel, allowing for easy discovery and promotion. Another potential benefit of using a web app storefront would be the APIs to help developers deal with authentication, licensing and other technical hurdles of digital distribution.

It’s Possible Now

A great majority of native apps could be deployed today as full featured mobile web apps. The HTML5 family of technologies allow for refined typography, animation, streaming video, offline storage, and the list goes on. Probably the most high profile web app to date is the Youtube mobile site, which delivers a comparable experience to the native apps they have built.

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Youtube Mobile Web Experience

Real World Challenges

As with any innovation, there are big questions that need to be answered. The most obvious is the issue of cross-platform compatibility. Building a robust and rich cross-platform mobile web app experience would benefit from HTML5 technology support, but currently RIM and Microsoft’s mobile offerings use their own standards. This weakens the des/dev once, deploy anywhere story; but is by no means a dealbreaker. Web developers have long dealt with coding to accommodate troublesome browsers, and this would be a similar case.

Another challenge in the ‘deploy anywhere’ scenario arises when you look at how a given design translates across devices with varying resolutions, form factors and input methods. Application designers will need to approach this problem by targeting several key resolution/form factor combinations, similar to what is recommended by the Android SDK. Depending on what device an app is being run on, the design, layout and functionality may differ significantly. This can be solved using a combination of intelligent design and careful development.

Last but not least is the problem of providing consistent, quality user experiences in this new application space. We’ve seen how the Android’s app offerings often leave much to be desired in terms of visual design and usability while Apple has been more successful in defining quality experiences. Providing a set of best practices, design patterns, and components for designers would go a long way towards the creation of quality mobile web app experiences that would win over consumers. As mobile web apps gain credibility, we will see more offering such as Sencha Touch and Sproutcore that provide solid web development and experience frameworks.

The Inevitable Victory of the Web Browser

Web applications as ‘the next big idea’ might never happen — but in the coming years, more and more websites will have mobile incarnations that look a lot like applications. You’ll be swiping through articles, pinching photos, and flicking pests off your Farmville plot — all in your mobile browser. And people won’t even realize that in the end, the next generation mobile web won.

What Do You Think?

This article is part of our Opinion Column section where we provide a platform for designers and developers to raise their voice and discuss their opinion with the community. What is your opinion on native mobile apps and HTML5 apps? Where do you see advantages and disadvantages of both? How do you predict mobile development in the upcoming years? Are we all getting a little carried away with the app hype? If you have developed an app for mobile devices, which model did you choose and why? Let us know what you think.

If you have developed an app for mobile devices, what paradigm did you choose?6survey software7

(ik)(vf)

Footnotes

  1. 1 http://webkit.org/
  2. 2 http://www.sencha.com/
  3. 3 http://vimeo.com/12636777
  4. 4 http://www.android.com/market/
  5. 5 http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GGT8ZCTBoBA
  6. 6 http://polldaddy.com/poll/4451239/
  7. 7 http://polldaddy.com/features-surveys/

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Kim is user experience designer who creates engaging and innovative experiences on Adobe's XDCE team. When not pushing pixels for Adobe, he shoots photos, plays with physical computing, and makes DJ mixes.

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  1. 1

    Really nice read.

    We are definitely living in the era where the question, “do we need a mobile version?”, is becoming a really dumb question.

    Thanks!

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  2. 2

    Excellent article. While I’m just getting into mobile design/dev myself, it does seem to be extremely flexible. Even better, anyone with a cursory knowledge of front-end can put one together. Hope the community can get together and develop some sort of “mobile app” store.

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  3. 3

    I’ve also read about PhoneGap: http://www.phonegap.com/

    Is this a similar framework to Sencha?

    If so do PhoneGap and Sencha work better for different things or are they fairly similar?

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    • 4

      I’m surprised by the poll that over 50% polled created their app in the cross browser web app paradigm. I’m not sure that this applies to web applications which are different then cross browser websites. I see applications as those that specifically target the unique value additions of the mobile device offering, and I don’t think that many website webapps apply this forethought. The “webapps” are rather built to be compatible on mobile devices while taking a standard webpage browser approach paradigm.

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      • 5

        hmmmm…not sure if i completely follow you here – but if you’re saying that webapps are usually just mobile versions of their big brother desktop browser versions – then in most cases yes that is true – but there are mobile web versions (or webapps) that do behave like an app and don’t necessairly try to display the entire web page. As for the mobile device offering – I think that is due to current limitations w/ say JS/CSS3 and what one can currently detect and/or assume is available on the mobile device rendering the webapp. I think HTML/CSS3/JS hardware detection will get better and thus if there are diff. w/ mobile devices those can be detected. Hopefully, such an API would be clean and easy. With current native mobile apps the dev. can usually assume the API is smart enough to handle situations where the mobile device doesn’t support a certain feature – say the diff. b/w an iPhone 3G and an iPhone 4.

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      • 6

        While I agree that this may be the way in which many mobile web apps are developed, it doesn’t have to be the case. It is possible to use any number of web technologies in mobile web apps, including PHP, which makes it possible (along with these front-end UI frameworks) to create mobile web apps that look and feel like native web apps.

        I think what we are seeing in this arena is the result of developers doing what they know best in mobile web apps, which is to mimic the websites they have developed in the past. This is a new paradigm and one worth learning as such. Once developers become more skilled in this area, I think the differences in native and mobile apps will be much less noticeable. The only areas in which mobile web apps will find it harder to compete may be security and speed – but the latter should be largely negligible.

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        • 7

          @Gabriel You are exactly right. At UCLA we’ve done exactly this. We’ve created a mobile web framework for UCLA mobile (http://m.ucla.edu) that is device agnostic based on a single set of markup. Developers only need to pull in the framework’s CSS and JavaScript files and it will deliver the appropriate styling based on the device.

          Also it’s key to understand that when developing a mobile website you should complement your desktop website, not copy it. Users on mobile devices are on the go and need/want information quickly. The key is to develop a mobile website strategy: http://www.takadesigns.com/blog/2010/01/26/developing-a-mobile-website-strategy/

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  4. 8

    Ciprian Borodescu

    January 26, 2011 8:43 am

    Kim, this is a really good article. Having a mobile-friendly website is no longer a fashionable-trendy-cool aspect of a brand, it has become a necessity (not even to mention that if your website still has a flash that takes forever to load on the mobile page, the users will delete it from their memories and bookmarks for ever!).

    In my opinion, Mobile Web Apps have the potential of becoming the Big Kahuna on the trends wave, which swallows more and more brands, music bands, SMEs, basically anybody who wants to be somebody on the mobile environment.

    I would have to say though that Native Apps are here to stay and nobody would need to argue otherwise: in my opinion there’s a big potential from the fact that both Web and Native Apps will coexist and even merge in some cases.

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  5. 9

    i think it depends on which audience you are targeting, and what type of information you want to give.
    Local data storage is one of the hot issues, making apps really fast.
    jQuery mobile, even if it’s still in Alpha, it could be a good starting point without going through C# and various (open or propetary) SDK .
    Chrome and Firefox are out there selling web apps as well, that will drive a LOT of developers on this side of the fence.
    Augmented Reality is my next step though ……
    btw, good read

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  6. 10

    for some reason, whether by conditioning or affinity for my iphone 4, i much prefer native apps versus web apps (even though usually the former is just a compiled version of the latter). i have absolutely no web app bookmarks on my springboard at all. heres hoping for a smashing mag native iphone (and android etc) app!

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    • 11

      Yes I second a native app for Smashing Magazine. The App Store and Android Market would look much prettier :)

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  7. 12

    This was a great article. I am currently working on a personal development project for a web app and last week it dawned on me…I might not have my computer with me at times where i need the app, so why not not make sure it works with mobile devices.

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  8. 13

    Great article.

    I’m cheering on the mobile web vs. native applications, and I love the Sencha framework. Being able to give that native application experience but served using open standards is a big win for both designers/developers and end users.

    Consider the alternative, if App Stores (used liberally here, despite Apple’s trademark) are the end game, then our use and consumption habits are really at the whim of what our tyrannical app overlords dictate. Native apps can’t be searched. Native apps are generally subject to censorship and arbitrary guidelines (I can appreciate these, but I should be able to release “Hamster Dance Mobile” should I choose to). Native apps are subject to a 30% tax right out of the gates.

    Go Sencha & other open standards frameworks!

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  9. 14

    This is a really awesome article that hits a TON of relevant points. I feel like because of all of the latest mobile and social networking trends that we beat this “mobile app” thing to death. No longer is it easy to find apps that are original and the market is flooded with them now. Not to mention how many people are fighting for your attention by trying to make their apps free. But then this gets into the debate about advertising and when enough is enough.

    Definitely some interesting stuff, and it will be exciting to see where the “app revolution” takes us in the next couple of years. Thanks for the post! :D

    -Nick
    nickhammonddesign.com

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  10. 15

    Sorry Apple, Sorry Google, Sorry Facebook…the internet will win!!! The monopoly of “by the people, for the people” vis a vis an open internet will trump any companies attempt at total and utter domination.

    Long live the web, long live web standards, long live open source — !

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  11. 16

    You forget that people can easily charge for a native iphone/android app, so if an application is received favourably at least some of the cost of fragmentation should be covered.

    I’d happily invest in version 4 of my android/iphone/whatever app if I had $100,000 worth of users on it, but wouldn’t bother if the customer base was only worth $100.

    So if the developer can make their content compelling then wonderful.

    The adobe platform was going to be great for mobile apps until apple refused to allow it on iphone, that’s the direction I wish everything had gone. Though I do really wish people would focus more on web apps, oh how I do :)

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    • 17

      Carolina Ramirez

      July 26, 2013 11:36 am

      Apple refused to allow Flash because it is bad: it is very slow and will hog CPU of phones. jQuery Mobile and Sencha Touch is better than Flash when you put them with HTML5, CSS3, and Javascript.

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  12. 18

    take mozilla prism as an example… we need to make offline apps and web apps as two subjects… nice read, thanks :)

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  13. 19

    I’m a mobile app (iPhone and iPad) developer. I think part of the problem is distribution. It’s a pain to build a webapp and ask people to fumble with the menus to get it in the device as an app (in iPhone you need to bookmark it as a home screen item). It’s often easier to point them to a link in the app store. You get reviews in the app store, which you don’t on a naked web app.

    I think it mostly boils down to resources and what you need to accomplish with the app. If it’s simply showing content, you could go for a web app. If it requires integration with core components (and possibly other native apps) then it’s a much better experience to go native.

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  14. 20

    Very good article. iA recently reworked ZEIT ONLINE for the exact same reasons and wrote a good article about the experience. The web browser is still the most popular content app, so they chose the obvious route.
    http://www.informationarchitects.jp/en/news-on-ipad-the-obvious-way/

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  15. 21

    We’re testing WPtouch Pro on all our WordPress sites. The feedback has been very positive.

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  16. 22

    I’m surprised by the poll that over 50% polled created their app in the cross browser web app paradigm. I’m not sure that this applies to web applications which are different then cross browser websites. I see applications as those that specifically target the unique value additions of the mobile device offering, and I don’t think that many website webapps apply this forethought. The “webapps” are rather built to be compatible on mobile devices while taking a standard webpage browser approach paradigm.

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  17. 23

    Not for nothing, but I recently started a company that publishes independent authors’ books by creating a custom app for them. If you interested in seeing what that app looks like and the design of it, feel free to truck on over to http://www.publishyourownbook.org and by all means, if you have questions about app design, I’ve got a few under my belt. :) Maybe I can help ya out.

    Nice article! I can’t wait for the next book to come out next month!! I already reserved my copy! :)
    Shawn

    ps. I think the Windows 7 phone is DOA and I would never recommend someone developing for it. Android, maybe… but for now.. Apple is where it’s at. (for good or for bad)

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  18. 24

    Great article and one that we will probably be reading more of in the future. It’s a little bit funny to me that with everything moving to the cloud in the desktop world some are slow to realize that clearly we are just repeating history. The mobile apps of today will move into the cloud as well. At my company (www.insequent.com), we built a platform that provides mobile websites for small business. One it allows everyone access, and two, you don’t need an app if you are a small business in most cases. Yes apps will be around for a while, but in the end, as the author correctly points out, the mobile web will “win.”

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  19. 25

    Steve: PhoneGap is different from Sencha Touch.

    Sencha Touch is a Javascript framework for building rich, touch-screen optimized user interfaces that run in a web browser.

    PhoneGap is a very interesting product to bring up because helps bridge the gap between web and mobile apps. It works by taking HTML/CSS/JS content and wrapping it in a container (a framework in the phone’s native programming language) that turns it into a native app for a variety of phones.

    So it can be a good transition to developing native apps – most of your development can still be done in HTML/CSS/JS, rather than in Objective C or Java, and much of the rest of the phone-specific coding is handled by the framework, which can greatly lessen the learning curve needed to build native apps.

    You could build for the web first, then transition to mobile apps by reusing most of the web code in PhoneGap once you think you need a native version that’s downloadable from an app store.

    You should be able to use Sencha Touch in combination with PhoneGap, since they serve different functions – you could use Sencha Touch to help build the rich user interface of your web app, and PhoneGap to wrap that web app up into a native application for various phones.

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  20. 26

    For web sites, I’m all for creating mobile skins which simply alter the appearance (and possible operation) of it for the the mobile device. The popular WPTouch WordPress plug-in is a great example of something like this. Of course, with modern smartphones that can render sites almost perfectly it’s quite debatable as to its necessity.

    The other thing I’m really interested in is cross app compilation. Although Apple are really strict about it at the moment, I’m starting to hear about software that will compile languages in native code for both the iPhone and Android. This could be really powerful in nullifying that fragmentation you mentioned.

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  21. 27

    Jose Maria Barros

    January 26, 2011 2:20 pm

    Good article. About my opinion, ive choosed ‘it depends’. Nowadays it depends on what the client wants. If the client wants to have camera support its not possible (at least as i know) to do in a web app.

    Recently i had to do an app for mobile but first i had to do the mockups in html5 and used jqtouch to do the animations and geo location.
    After that, and its not finished, i will convert the web app to a native app, with the help of phonegap, because they want to use the camera of their phones and will work on most mobile phones.

    The problem with web-app is the cross browser problems and u cant use camera. At least for now.

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  22. 28

    Nice writeup. Apple scammed us into thinking mobile apps are the future. If they hadn’t done it, this conversation wouldn’t be happening now: we’d have smartphones but they’d still be a thing of the future. Now we finally get to have discussions that bring us back to standards and accessibility on mobile devices, like this one. Also, we need at least two things from the W3C: a spec around a canOpenURL() method for smartphones that support custom protocols; and a specification for mobile devices to register hardware with browsers and standardized ways for browsers to communicate with hardware.

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  23. 29

    A very interesting article. I think native apps and web based apps can exist together, it’s all based on what the application is for and if it needs to use the native features of a mobile device (camera, maps, calendar, ipod etc)

    Many apps available such as news aggregators could use a HTML 5 based platform and would work on multiple devices without the need to start from scratch when porting to different platforms.

    I admit though, I do like the features available when apps are developed for a specific platform. Native apps keep things consistent, the design and navigation is familiar and you know it’s been tested and isn’t going to break the layout.

    Whatever option you choose, native or web based, I think it still comes down to how you promote and market: http://www.archive-articles.co.uk/promoting-your-iphone-apps/

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  24. 30

    Great read. You raised a number of spot-on facts that pinpoint where we are today, and our barriers to break through to the inevitable web over native.

    The current success of native app stores are temporarily holding B2C efforts in the native realm…you can’t deny the advantages of findability in the apple store (no comment on quality!).

    There’s the follow-the-heard mentality that’s causing our customers to ask for iPhone/iPad apps..we’re building what’s asked of us from an IT services perspective. I can only hope (and do indeed expect) that healthy competition across mobile platforms continues to hammer home that the web will win.

    Last comment–as a product mgr in the mobile health field, look for mobile health solutions to actually trend away from native, as device-specific health solutions dip into FDA regulatory areas. For once, healthcare may be caught frontrunning! Though the paradox, as mentioned by some other commenters, is that some native features such as cameras, accelerometers, connectable interfaces, etc., may remain accessible only via native apps…however in my experience the fear of FDA regulation is winning out, and product backlogs are deprioritizing some of the more risky feature points that necessitate a jump to the native side. Note that the FDA is very slow to define its role in this realm–FDA approval of an iPhone app surely seems silly! But without clarity, there’s lots of cold feet among mobile health developers when it comes to native apps.

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  25. 31

    Thought I’d point out that Phonegap allows you access to native functionality such as camera, accelerometer etc.

    Z

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  26. 32

    Good article.

    Recently the company I work for was tasked with building an iPad app for a client. I was tasked with looking at the various frameworks out there and ultimately it came down to being between a regular HTML5 app, Phonegap and Appcelerator. As no one had Objective-C experience going that route was not an option.

    Anyway to cut a long story short we went with Appcelerator (http://www.appcelerator.com). We found that sometimes the regular HTML5 app and Phonegap weren’t snappy enough compared to a native app as they ran within Webkit/Safari or the iPhone UIWebView. Appcelerator allowed us to use our javascript skills to build a native XCode app. I will say though that the Appcelerator tutorials leave a lot to be desired and they have a lot of unanswered questions on their forums.

    As people have already mentioned it all depends on your web app needs. As we were building specifically for iPad we went with Appcelerator. If on the other hand we had to develop for multiple devices, Phonegap would have won out as portability would have won out over performance.

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  27. 33

    Check out the Titanium Appcelerator too. It’s great what they’re trying to accomplish, even though they’re still at the start of the road.

    I think a downside of the websites is their inability to access key features of the phone. And also an app gives a more robust (of sorts) feeling.

    But i’m all in for developing with the same tools (HTML/CSS/Javascript) for web and apps too.

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  28. 34

    If you have the time and the budget allows it then a native application for mobile devices should be developed as it offers a lot more functionality but with new technologies like html5 and updates in the jquery touch library can offer just as much.

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  29. 35

    Interesting article and I like some of the points you raised.

    However, what a lot of companies don’t realise is that by choosing the app route for their mobile presence is really only going to please the loyal customers. The whole point of a mobile presence is to open up access to an even larger audience, because we do not all sit at a desktop all day every day, but an even greater number of people carry around a smartphone. Having a mobile friendly website will make life much easier for customers. If they have to download an app for everything they want, their phones will become too cluttered to be of any use.

    The focus for mobile developments has to be the casual user, not the loyal customer. A mobile friendly website can be adapted and grown accordingly, but an app needs to be completely redesigned.

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  30. 36

    Great and Sad at the same time.

    The “Don’t make me think” symptom will always shine through.

    Internet is a way to communicate and people want to swipe-click-browse…

    Maybe it’s because the fact that people don’t really want to think.

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  31. 37

    Author, please google WebWorks Blackbery.
    WebWorks is the new SDK for Blackberry and Playbook, that use html, js, css to build an app or native app, whatever app you wanna call. So this html, css, js app runs just like a normal n not in a browser. You really need to check it out. For Rim there should be no app or web app, for me webdeveloper the dream of design n develop n deploy once for many devices does come true.

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  32. 38

    In addition, as another poster commented, jquerymobile is really fantastic. Easy to use. It should definitely earn a spot in this article as another resource. Great read! Thanks.

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  33. 39

    I am just about to release my first iPhone app. I will be doing V2.

    I think it is slightly insane not to leverage the dominant revenue position iPhone has.

    If we add Android in, we have, what, 93% of the mobile market?

    My solution is iPhone app, plus mobile version (maybe using Sencha) that does the core parts of my site and doing that, you cover almost everyone.

    Of course, if you want to push updates, via the .mobi or m.domain is much easier and services as a good POC for iPhone app updates (in my opinion).

    Tim

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  34. 40

    Steffi - Web Courses Bangkok

    January 27, 2011 8:07 pm

    I really enjoyed reading this article, because this topic will become increasingly important. Thanks for sharing!

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  35. 41

    Our business is currently considering using Appcelerator’s Titanium Framework. I’d be curious to hear your thoughts regarding performance of a Titanium app versus a non-interpreted native iOS app.

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  36. 42

    It can’t be 100% bandwidth dependant. So native can make sense. Again, technology is a mean of achieving the user experience.

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  37. 43

    I did some research on the mobile app
    I have checked that Titanium is better suited for iphone and ipad apps
    and phonegap thought give cross platform results. But not anticipated well by Apple the phonegap’s mobile apps

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  38. 44

    Half a year ago, I had to develop a new mobile mailer while another team worked on iPhone/Android apps. Without going into the details, I managed to create 2 sets of templates (being selected by a simple Regular Expression on the UserAgent String) to work on 99% of all mobile Devices (plus every Desktop Browser including lynx).

    Mobile Pages can support many more Devices than native Apps. With HTML5 Stuff like localstorage, Offline Support and CSS3 Transitions, making an WebApp with the feeling of a native app is possible.

    Whenever you want to use Geolocation, precise orientation data, Multitouch etc., native Apps are the way to go… yet. I am anxious for future versions of the OSs/Browsers to make them obsolete, too.

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  39. 45

    Great Post. This post looks at the Mobile App/ Mobile Website issue from a technology standpoint. How about if we look at it from a consumer standpoint. A recent survey by eMarketer show customers prefer mobile websites over mobile apps. 78% consumers preferred a mobile website over app for product reviews. Mobile websites are device agnostic – resulting in seamless use across all makes/models for users.

    Here is the eMarketer link with great graphs showing customer preferences. Must see for all http://tinyurl.com/69jsllw

    Here are 2 good links to further this discussion
    http://www.readwriteweb.com/archives/mobile_app_or_browser-based_site.php
    http://www.slideshare.net/urmobile/5-reasons-mobile-websites-are-better-than-mobile-apps

    Thanks
    Sandeep Arora
    CEO – Telezent

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  40. 46

    Awesome article, it’s hard to find useful resources about mobile apps for free.

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  41. 47
  42. 48

    Like I’ve been saying for years; Native apps are luxury, Mobile Web is a necessity. I foresee the future of most serious, tools and utility applications making a migration towards mobile web and open web standards. Maintenance of multiple native builds is taking up too many resources in enterprise environment and “build it once, deliver to many” methodology seems like a logical choice.

    Mobile web is the future.

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  43. 49

    I think the mobile is going more towards (or will be going) mobile web apps as opposed to native apps because (at least for deployment) it is easier to maintain and update than several versions of the same site.

    This one is good: hotelpepper.com

    It does depend on what the client wants but at the same time, building a mobile web app will have more potential reach than just deploying something to itunes for download. Not “everyone” has an iphone :p

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  44. 50

    There are certain contexts in which mobile web is a disaster — large meetings, for example. My company has created a set of native apps for meetings and we are getting business from customers who started with mobile web and have come to us become people couldn’t connect to the mobile web app rendering it virtually useless.

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  45. 51

    This is a great article! You pretty much nailed it with Increasing Fragmentation. It can be quite daunting for the developer to think that they must learn multiple frameworks/libraries/language to engage a wider audience of the mobile world.

    I hate to open up old scab wounds but I feel Flash solves most of these problems (albeit with Flash rises new “minor” problems) But when it comes to interactivity which most apps contain now, Flash rendering capabilities far out reach than it’s competitors (html5). I’ve run multiple rendering test html5 vs Flash on mobile and Flash just beats it at the starting line.

    Don’t hate the technology, hate the developer…

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  46. 52

    Interesting article, but at the end of it I wonder wether the author actually ever has spent the time to try developing a cross-platform mobile web app with web technologies… I have worked at Opera Software designing widgets that were supposed to run across devices and platforms, what you mention had been Opera’s credo for years now—they send out evangelists to explain to developers how this can be done (even I have done so).

    But at the end of the day if you compare the cost and the outcome of using HTML5, CSS3 and all the other technologies to develop mobile applications, for me, my verdict is clear: They cannot beat a native iOS app. From that perspective the feat of WebOS deserves a lot of my respect, but that’s a different discussion.

    Having to deal with a plethora of screen dimensions, screen orientations and resolutions, interaction paradigms (touch vs. keyboard vs. d-pad), device functionalities and UI metaphors (back buttons vs. home buttons, etc.), skins, etc. you find yourself as a designer easily in a maze that costs you a lot of time and work to master and adjust for each platform again.
    That’s one of the key reasons why the iPhone/iPad has been so successful: You develop for pretty much just one device, unlike Android.

    I admit that the tools have become better in the last months again (I have not yet tried Sencha), but at the end of it, if you want a pixel-perfect UX that uses the device capabilities then failing gracefully is just the slower approach than targeting one device at a time.

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  47. 53

    I would like to mention, I am in the process of creating a mobile web-app store/directory: webappvault.com

    If anyone has any suggestions for featuring mobile webapps, feel free to send me and email.

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  48. 54

    Purpose and target audience decides which strategy you choose today. Mid-term both will live happily together side by side. Long term we will see some form of merger. It doesn’t matter what we think of Apple, Google etc. They will adapt to the market instead of dictate it as they are currently doing. Thats business.

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  49. 55

    I see now that the marketing value of Apps from the iStore or Android Market is declining. If we finally get mobile browsers that are capable of using the phone’s native functionalities like tilt, camera and geolocation, the browser based mobile web app is going to take over, the curent ‘desktop’ apps.

    We made a (large) list of the current best browser based web apps, which are often hard to find with your phone. You can check it at wappstart.com

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  50. 56

    Hi Guys,

    I am new on mobile web app using html 5, can anyone help me how to start.

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  51. 57

    Great article. I spent about 45 minutes reviewing all the links. I wanted to add a comment and help some of your readers.

    Mobile web is the fastest growing industry in the history of the internet. I found a software that can help people in the graphic design, print, web design and web development industries get to the mobile arena really quickly. By the way i am in all of those industries in some form or another.

    http://www.web2mobile.co

    this software allows you to build professional mobile sites in minutes.

    I hope this helps some of your readers.

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  52. 58

    Obvoiously there is need for another artcle about web app development platforms and frameworks who solve the content adaptation issue. Looking forward to it ;)

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  53. 59

    well my question is about the deployment of web apps on the smartphones does the browser handles all that or we have to use some kind of a installer

    0
    • 60

      Hi Mubashir Khan,
      there is no installation required. Check chessfriends.com mobile app. Just put url into your iphone and it loads automatically.

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  54. 61

    I have to absolutely agree, that mobile web app is the future of mobile software market. This article is the reason why we switched from our online chess iPhone app to web based app. It is even easier to develop, features are same and it is cross platform. No need for complicated app store install.. Check it out: chessfriends.com.

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  55. 62

    Greetings from Colorado! Im bored at function so I decided to take a look at your weblog on my iphone throughout lunch break. I truly like the info you provide here and cant wait to take a appear when I get house. Im amazed at how quick your weblog loaded on my phone .. Im not even utilizing WIFI, just 3G .. Anyways, wonderful site!

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  56. 63

    if you view the technology here:

    http://jquerymobile.com/

    you can easily create a native looking WebApp and then use something like this:

    http://www.appsgeyser.com/

    to make it onto a native app.

    -JL

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  57. 64

    The article didn’t mention but what about the ability to have constant on web servers to publish your new HTML5 web apps to all these mobile devices. I would count this as a negative for this type of app.

    Can a new app (or even a seasoned) developer justify the expense of paying a co-lo or cloud service just to host these apps? The more popular the app or apps the more you’re charged for bandwidth and possibly cpu.

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  58. 65

    I say it depends on wether your app needs to access device-specific functionality. If you talk about the possibilities now, a mobile web app is not able to access your contacts for instance.
    If you need integration with phone-specific features, or if you want the app to be available offline, go for a native app.
    Maybe phonegap will do the trick for you, I haven’t tried it yet, but it will probably not perform as well as a true native app written in the language that was inteded for the device (I was very disappointed with Titanium).

    On the other hand, if you don’t need phone-specific features, do not care about internet availability and you want a maintainable site, go for a web app. But my opinion is, do NOT try to mimic a native app. You’ll confuse your users, because it looks the same, but yet runs in a browser. It will never be able to perform at the same speed as a native app.

    Last comment: don’t forget there’s other handhelds out there then iPhone/iPad and android devices. Some might be touch, others might not. Some phones might use older browsers. Depending on several variables, you might need to turn JS and/or CSS off, disable images or other content, etc.
    You can use http://wurfl.sourceforge.net/ to detect device settings on the backend.
    Testing is key.

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  59. 66

    And i used snappii.com to make apps. i’m not a developer, but managed to make a cool app with snappii in some minutes.

    0
  60. 67

    Once you developed a mobile website you will probably need to create online surveys to get feedback from your users. I recommend checking out http://mobosurvey.com for creating online surveys that works on mobile phones. You can create surveys and link it from your mobile website. Mobosurvey uses jquery mobile on their mobile survey viewer.

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  61. 68

    Hey all you funk soul brothers (and sisters!) Great wide ranging discussions going on here!

    Check out Application Craft http://applicationcraft.com

    jQuerymobile has announced AC as a JQM dev platform and here’s a case study that Phonegap did on them : http://phonegap.com/case_study/phonegap-application-craft-pain-free-mobile-app-development/

    In summary, it is a cloud-based dev platform that does mobile (all important platforms) and desktop on an equal footing. It’s got an IDE that does drag-and-drop / wysiwyg UI building as well as code editing. I guess you could describe it as Visual Basic in the Cloud, but Javascript not Basic. Widget based like VB was, extensible. Open Source with free platform offering.

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  62. 69

    http://www.iPhoneAccordionMenu.com is a very simple and elegant solution to making a mobile web app in minutes with very little coding. The practical examples show you how to edit a simple XML file to point to static web pages and the accordion menu code glues it all together!

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  63. 70

    Nice article! One benefits you’ll get is you don’t have to download an application or any maintenance updates, rather “call up” a URL via their mobile browser which instantly delivers the latest application to their device.

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  64. 71

    If you disable Safari. Does it just remove the icon from the home page, or acutally disable Safari. How doe this affect full screen web apps alreay installed on the iPad as they use Safari / webkit resources to work?

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  65. 72

    I’m building a web app and was wondering if I can also create an icon that users could download to their devices that would launch the web app. So it would be easy to find on their device and they wouldn’t have to bookmark the link for find the web app in their browser.

    This app would not live in an app store, but would live on our web site for limited use.

    I can’t seem to find info on how to do this, but it seems like something others would want to do, too?

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  66. 73

    Sebastian Droid

    March 13, 2012 6:59 am

    i have been installing for wordppress platform. thats too easy. just need a plugin and thats running so good.

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  67. 74

    So two years on, and mobile apps are still just for gamers and the browser /HTML5 and responsive design close the gaps.

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  68. 75

    HTML 5 has smoothen the web application development for mobile since it majorly supported by all the mobile OS and so induces a similar experience like a web application on a desktop. This also facilitates the companies to develop an application, instead of focusing on the platform to choose for development.
    Develop a generic web app and you’re done, HTML 5 will take care of the rest from compatibility to communication.

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  69. 76

    Martin Lindorn

    May 27, 2013 1:48 am

    Well over 2 years in, and we are talking cross browser apps with markup that can not only give the user a native feel, but also talk to the device and its other features like camera and location.
    Would it be in a normalized world, there would be no discussion on which alternative would serve the public the best, regardless of what system the user would utilize on their device. However, the question is not so simple, we have a history of apps for our devices, we have learnt a specific routine to handle them, install, update, download from market/appstore. This is also something that has to be taken into consideration when teaching the userbase about a difference in their behaviour, and it will not happen overnight…

    Good read, article and comments.

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  70. 77

    Just a comment as one of the people involved in Andromo’s creation, a tool for creating native Android apps without programming: http://www.andromo.com

    There’s no denying the obvious benefits of a cross-platform HTML5 solution, however the reality is, you do lose the native look, feel, and performance as a result. You’re also very restricted in what you can access, likely implementing a load of Javascript interfaces to try to fill that gap by binding to native code.

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