There's long been a raging debate going over HTML vs. Native Apps. Just Googling the debate returns over 3.7 million results.
I'm here to tell you, that's the wrong way of thinking of things.
It's like debating whether oil or water will win when mixed. You can't get the right answer if you're asking the wrong question. While oil and water don't mix well, they can co-exist in the same bottle, and there are valid times you might want to use each.
Let's dive into the right way to think about mobile, and specifically about the role native apps will play. A better analogy of the mobile landscape is from the point of view of a car manufacturer like Honda. Honda makes a lot of Honda Accords -- they're its bread & butter. But for years, Honda had a Formula One team. A Honda Accord will never compete at the Formula One level, nor was it meant to. And conversely, if Honda only had a Formula One team, it wouldn't have the massive market share in the auto market that the Accord and other bread & butter models provide it, but Honda did learn a lot about how to make really great engines from its Formula One program.
In the same way, mobile apps are the "Formula One" of mobile, and HTML is the Honda Accord. You can get wide distribution across many phones by having a mobile HTML presence, but you can't do the sexy, progressive types of things that you can do with apps, because an app is typically compiled software which can leverage the specific hardware functionality of the phone (the camera, the address book, geolocation, the microphone, and many other things).
Part of this raging debate has been that HTML will catch up to native apps, and in ways it has. Often times the refrain you might hear is that "in 2 years, HTML will catch up to where apps are today." Quite possibly true -- HTML5 can access the phone's GPS and take advantage of local storage, for example -- something it couldn't do before. But the second half of that statement that I never hear anyone ask is "where will apps be in 2 years?" Mobile hardware is not standing still -- rather it's evolving rapidly. As my co-founder Sean once pointed out, the basic desktop computer hasn't changed in 30 years: Keyboard, monitor, mouse. But phone hardware is changing massively every six months, and it's hard to impossible to imagine what it'll look like two years -- four product cycles -- from now. A great example of this is Project Glass by Google. Who would've really thought that a set of glasses that take advantage of augmented reality would be science fact, and not science fiction, by 2012? HTML is a trailing standard; there is no possible way that HTML will ever catch up to compiled software so long as the hardware is evolving at a rapid pace, which it will continue to do for the foreseeable future. And as a funny aside, did you know that the HTML5 spec hasn't even been ratified yet, and isn't set to be until 2014? I've recently heard engineers at Facebook, Gannett and other places stating that they're re-focusing on native mobile apps, because while HTML can get a user to 90% of the experience of a native app, eeking out that last 10% is hard to impossible using an HTML approach.
That's not to say there aren't very valid and useful reasons to focus on mobile web today. As a business, you might want wide distribution of your content -- the equivalent of needing to sell many Honda Accords. I'm not going to focus on those benefits in this blog, but they're there, and they all depend on your goals as a company wading into the mobile space.
This blog is all about apps, and what they might mean to your business or brand:
Back in 2008 when we started PointAbout and we were making high-end $100k+ apps for large brands, we had to convince clients to dip into experimental budgets, because many client weren't sure if apps were a fad. I'm here to tell you apps are not a fad. Apps are the future of packaging and distribution of your business in the digital age. Here's why:
The internet is complicated and distracting to the average user. We call it "browsing" for a reason -- the entire world wide web is out there, competing for my attention. Grandma probably doesn't wade too far across this web -- she might have an email account she checks regularly, and a few safe sites bookmarked. Ask Grandma to find a restaurant to eat at tonight, or to list an item on eBay and all bets are off.
The web isn't packaged well, and distribution is full of danger zones. There's no concept of ownership, and no intimate connection between the user and the brand. The web is kind of like the wild west -- a lawless place you wade into at your own risk. As geeks, especially in the Valley, we often forget how scary and confusing a place this can be for the average user.
Apps fix these problems, but that's just the start. Oh, there's so much more to apps than just fixing the packaging & distribution problem that's been vexing companies on the web.
"Apps have become a meaningful abbreviation to technology that just works. Apps provide a common and easily understood idea that has been widely accepted as a solution - indeed a means to get stuff done quickly and effectively."
And I have thought about apps in that context ever since. Think of an app as a piece of functionality that just works.
When you think about apps in that way, you start to see what some of the opportunities are for apps to permeate our lives. Here are just a few examples:
Apps Replace Hardware: Last year, Marc Andreessen argued that software is eating the world. I agree wholeheartedly, and apps are a huge delivery vehicle for that trend. Take, for example, the Lockitron app, which I blogged about in 2010. No longer do I need to carry keys around -- I can unlock the office door using software. The app is the new key.
Do you agree? Disagree? Do you think the future rests with the web? I'd love to hear your thoughts in the comments section below.
Excellent points about when to use Native vs. HTML. The debate I've come up with recently is even more important if you want to do A/B testing or be able to continuously update your application. In those cases, HTML is a better choice, but unfortunately you give up some advantages of Native. Maybe eventually everything will be web based and there will simply be libraries/API to access the special hardware features of your device.
My grandma will love those apps to make her life up to date but she'd probably prefer a cooler name.
I've been meaning to write this post for a while now, and a recent post by Bill French of iPadCTO spurred me into action.
It's been interesting to experience the changing definition of an "app".
The most popular definition of an "app" is native software that typically runs on a smartphone, and most commonly the iPhone. It's compiled software built using ObjectiveC in X Code, an Integrated Development Environment (IDE) for Mac OS X. If it sounds complicated, that's because it is - developers who have the ability to build "apps" are in high demand these days.
But the line that defines an app is being massively blurred. Take for example, OpenAppMkt, run by my friend Teck Chia, which packages "web apps" into an "app store". These aren't apps in the traditional sense -- in fact they're just websites packaged up to look and feel like native apps.
But what Teck and many others are doing gets to a fundamental tenet of the allure of apps: while you browse the web, you don't own the web. Being on the web is a very nomadic experience. You visit your favorite sites, then you visit other sites, but there's very little sense of ownership on the web.
Forget what you think you know about Windows RT, the media have been on a witch hunt and in the process misled the consumer about this Operating System and the hardware which runs it.While you can read more on why i think thiselsewhere on this blog. this post is about Windows RT Apps and what works.
While it may not have all the abilities of its sibling to install apps on the Desktop, this is still a Windows machine with the ability to connect to mapped drives and mount lots of external media. While you could do all this management from the desktop explorer RT is about the apps. What this app offers above many of the others is its simple layout which makes dragging and dropping files between mapped folders easier.
It's worth noting if you do want to see a nas drive as a mapped drive for example, you'll need to do the actual drive mapping (for now) in the Desktop explore app. However once done you can create links within this app to any sub folder.