Forget Smartphone Applications, Just Build for the Web

By Kyle James - Mon, Aug 25, 2008

Mobile, Web development

blkberrybold Forget Smartphone Applications, Just Build for the WebA recent article in InformationWeek drew my attention as being worth a second look, Think Beyond Basic Apps For Smartphones.  The juice of the article discussing developers spending more time designing applications for smartphones beyond the basic email, calendar, and other basic applications.  The article did a good job of presenting the facts and building a case, but I want to champion the cause for web applications for mobile devices.  Of course I’m biased toward the web although I’m a converted web guy who spent years specifically in Information Technology and focusing on that end of the spectrum.

For at least the past two years it’s been debated designing a mobile version of websites and although this isn’t very hard if you have your whole site setup properly through CSS it’s becoming more and more of a nonissue as smartphones come out that can fully render websites.  It’s been many months since I made my prediction of 2008 being the year of the mobile phone and so far it’s been exciting advancements and with Christmas season and the new Blackberries bursting to be released in America over the coming months really putting pressure on the current king of exciting smartphones, the iPhone.

Just to give you an idea of  the computation power of these new phones the New Blackberry Bold that is expected to come out in the US in just a few weeks, it’s already available in Chile and Germany, handles 65K colors, 128MB flash memory, 1GB storage memory and expandable to 8GB through a microSD card, and a 624MHz processor.  (Blackberry Bold Specs)  If those numbers don’t quite sink in, they are about equivalent to a PC just a decade ago.  My first PC which I got in 1995 or 1996 only had a 200MHz processor, 32MB memory and 2.5GB hard drive!  What I’m driving home is there is enough computational power on these things to handle full blown applications, but with so many services out there shouldn’t be the focus.

The InformationWeek article does pick up the article for web-based applications and service later in the piece even stating that 49% of respondents to a poll prefer web-based model for mobile applications.  Even with this data I’m stilling going to toss my two cents into the mix.

Build for the Web

iphone app Forget Smartphone Applications, Just Build for the WebI’m going to state it really simple.  From this point forward 95% of all applications should be built on the web.  Using a web browser abstractly as an Operating System isn’t far fetched anymore and the dynamic and fluid browsing interface of websites through AJAX and Flash makes services that go this route extremely flexible, dynamic, and centrally controlled.

Updates.  If you need to update your application because it’s on your web server it’s very easy to test and roll out the updates instead of issuing a patch for your application.  Software as a Service (SaaS) is a big deal and allows for users to always have the most up current and secure version of your software through the web with all the newest features.

Universal.  It’s taken years to get to this point, but through W3C and the use of CSS browsing the web is a universal function that can be experienced on any computer or device that can run a web browser (yes I’m specifically talking about smartphones here).  There is no need to design an application for the iPhone then build a separate one for Blackberry.  Even at this point your still going to need to factor in Windows Mobile, maybe Palm, and how about the upcoming Google Android?

The article does make some valid arguments that a native app will always be faster than a mobile app and smartphones browsers are still in their infancy.  Even with these arguments I am convinced that you have to be building for the future and with 3G speeds already the reality this issues in the future will become non points.

The web as originally conceived by Berners-Lee has come a long way and has to be seriously considered the platform of choice.  With over 1.4 billion internet users, yes that’s right BILLION, your talking about a target audience of 20% of the world.  As smartphones get better and better at rendering fully designed website, it’s not an if it’s a matter of when, the argument to build for any other platform becomes less and less convincing.

This post was written by:

Kyle James

Kyle James - who has written 226 posts on .eduGuru

Kyle is currently the Customer in Residence at HubSpot, a Co-Founder at nuCloud and  formerly the webmaster at Wofford College. Kyle is an active contributor in the social media spectrum. Although his background is technical, he claims to know a thing or two about marketing, but mostly that revolves around SEO, analytics, blogging, and social media. He has spoken at multiple national conferences and done countless webinars on topics ranging from e-mail marketing to social media and Web analytics. He's definitely a fairly nice guy.

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10 Responses to “Forget Smartphone Applications, Just Build for the Web”

  1. Liora Says:

    Nice Article! The article on Smart phone application, Just build for web is superb and has a lot of information and updates of smartphone applications.Thank you for sharing the latest updates.

    Reply

  2. Melissa Cheater Says:

    i’ll chip in that as a user, i’d prefer web builds just so that i don’t have to constantly download patches, plug ins etc but still benefit from improvements. with our facebook app, users don’t see improvements until they go to a page on apps.facebook.com - which is annoying, because i like showing off.

    Reply

  3. Qwerty Addict Says:

    Great post!
    I think you are right about the way smartphones render normal websites. I have found that if I get my websites validated through the W3 validator for both XHTML and CSS, good chance is that 95% of the current smartphones will crunch my site without burps :D

    I remember writing wap pages for my mobile users some time ago. Now, I simply don’t do that any more.

    Reply

  4. WM-themes Says:

    Great post!
    I think you are right . thenks

    Reply

  5. Modern Technology Says:

    my friend is right, if you run ur site through the W3 validator and fix all of your issues, the website will fit right in

    Reply

  6. SNO man Says:

    couldn’t agree more!

    when we decided to create world’s first full featured ski resort guide for mobile (because most people don’t take their laptop on ski holiday, but everyone has a phone in their pocket) we looked a creating apps for all of the main phone OS - it turned out to be amazingly limiting, expensive and actually of no benefit even to data roaming costs because the app would still need to connect to our server for snow forecast, lift and piste status etc…

    long story short, we designed for ALL phones (SNO.mobi even works on your $30 non-contract phone) and will make prettier versions for iPhone/Android/Blackberry later

    the lesson?
    - there is no other way to build something that will work on all devices from day 1 (rather than eg the less than 10% which are iPhone)
    - its the only way to put our clients’ business in literally EVERY skier’s pocket!
    (our clients are ski accommodation, apres ski bars, restaurants, ski schools, etc who can now be found by every visitor to their ski resort)

    sure you need to factor in some nice device detection and dynamic coding to catch all devices, but thats nothing compared to the cost of building lots of discreet apps - I reckon we added less than a month to our dev time and are live in over half a dozen browser languages (html, xhtml mp, wml 1.0 1.1 1.2, cHtml, etc)

    falling i love with the iPhone is only natural (i did) but allowing that to make you think everyone else has one is just bad business sense

    SNO man
    (founder SNO.mobi)

    Reply

  7. Redsnow 0.8 Says:

    Yes, I agree with your title. Smartphone and other handheld devices are become more and more sophisticated, they will be able to open any applications that desktop computer can.

    Thanks.

    Regards,
    Andriy

    Reply

  8. korey Says:

    i like apps that aren’t built into the web, when iam at home and use wifi then fine. When iam out though i don’t have internet on my phone as the cost is still to much for downloading and surfing.

    Reply

  9. jon Says:

    application smartphone very good

    Reply

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