Apps or HTML5


The idea of having apps for cell phones is not so new. Quite simple phones offered this and the apps were often developed using Java ME, a „reduced“ Java. This may not have been the best possible solution, but at least development could be made for a variety of cell phones with the same source code, but some additional testing effort.
Then Nokia smartphones added the option to use Qt together with C++ for the development of apps. The promise to be device-independent could still be maintained , because Qt is open source and has been ported to several popular desktop operating systems as well as Symbian, Maemo and Meego for cell phones. Qt is now developed by Digia and will become available even for Android in the future.
With the introduction of Apple’s iPhone and Android based cell phones two more variants for developing apps appeared: Objective-C for Apple’s cell phones and Java running on Dalvik for Android. Microsoft also tries to spread their cell phone OS, whose apps are, of course, to be developed differently again, maybe with C #?

Thus app developers should really think twice if it is really a good idea to develop the same app in about 6-8 almost completely independent implementations (for Android, Qt/Symbian, Qt/Maemo/Meego, Objective-C/ios, MS-WinPhone, Blackberry, JavaME,…) in order to support a large part of the potential user base. For very important apps that may well be a reasonable investment, but it turns quickly but the question of whether the cost is justifiable. Leaving out many potential users by just doing one or two or three implementations is not a good idea for an app that is important. And we know exactly which systems will become common in a few years or at least relevant occupy niches. Possibly new systems will at least have an Android Dalvik compatibility, so they will be able to run Android apps even if they are not Android. Sailfish from Jolla promises that they will do this. But it can very well happen that a new mobile OS becomes popular that requires one more implementation for its apps. So native apps installed on the mobile device will become available with a significant delay, while mobile web applications will be available on then new smart phone that we do not even know today from the first day. Noone is going to provide a mobile device without a decent web browser.

The idea of making money by getting some percentage from the sales of apps via the preferred app stores was great a few years ago. But now there are so many apps around that it is becoming harder to achieve significant download figures in order to make more than a few cents. Until recently apps were justified by functionality that was not readily available in web applications. However this is now changing rapidly. With HTML5, JavaScript, Ajax, WebSockets, and some other new features added to the web technology stack, almost everything that could be done by apps can now be done by web applications as well. And the web application can be developed once and used on a multitude of devices. I therefore assume that these apps will survive only for a few applications that are so important that multiple development does not hurt and that need more interaction than usual applications or access to special device hardware. It is increasingly difficult to find such cases. Just some examples:

  • users should pay for using the functionality. It is possible online as well. Many sites have paywalls.
  • games should also work offline, for example in railroad tunnels. HTML5 promises to have a local storage that can be used for this purpose.
  • Appearance: HTML5 is quite powerful for that.
  • interactivity with JavaScript, Ajax and HTML5 is quite powerful.

In short, the business of running app stores might very well become obsolete or at least a niche business for a small number of apps very soon.

Update 2019-03-23: is no longer referring to the company „Digia“ mentioned above. Qt is now developed by the Qt Company.

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