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Friday, July 17, 2009

Web Browser vs. Application Stores

James Rosewell writes:

Anyone involved in the mobile industry will have hardly failed to notice the hype surrounding mobile application stores - led by Apple. Application stores provide a really simple way for consumers to install applications on their mobile phones. They’re so simple I heard Iain Graham had used one the other week.

However they don’t solve the fundamental problem of handset compatibility. Anyone wishing to develop a native application for mobile phones needs to consider the handsets they wish to target and in which order. There’s Apple, Web OS, Nokia S40/S60, Windows, Android to name but five. For years, providers of consumer applications have only needed to worry about Microsoft and Apple with many choosing to ignore Apple. Unless today's application creator has deep pockets and makes many versions they’ll need to make some tough choices about where to start.

Could the Web Browser provide a solution?  Unlike native applications that execute on the mobile handset, web browsers are dumb and do what they’re told by a more sophisticated web server. Increasingly they offer standard support for technologies that provide a richer user experience such as Javascript and Flash. Developers are already familiar with the technologies involved and don’t need to learn entirely new interfaces and standards so can become productive more quickly.

However the big drawback of web browsers is their insistence in having a constant connection to the internet, something that is not always possible in the vague world of mobile data connections.

Solving this problem represents an opportunity for mobile browser manufacturers. Allowing their web browser to operate partially independent of the internet would allow application creators to build their solutions confident they’ll work on many handsets. This approach won’t work for all application types, those that need to control the handset or use specific features of a phone, but will help many that provide discrete services such as games, social networking and content. Google have made some big advances in this area with their Google Gears and now Wave technology.

In summary, before reaching for an Apple iPhone Developer to create your latest application, consider the alternatives. There’s no harm in creating a “lowest common denominator” for the web browser to quickly and cheaply get started before expanding to other platforms once you know which handsets are actually being used.

Author: The Fonecast
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