It’s been my observation over the past few months that the iPad has brought the hype about having an i(Pad|Phone|Touch) app to a record high. It’s glamourous to have your app accepted to the App Store, because, I don’t know, it’s in there with 85 different applications that turn your screen white? (It’s a $100-$800 flashlight now!) My personal opinion on this matter is that this is very short-sighted, and that our time would be much better spend building better websites for situations that do not require any of the functionality you truly can’t replicate on the web. Why you say? Well, ask me about it in person and in the right mood and I’ll probably give you a rambling diatribe about this, but because I have to type this out, I’ll try to hit a few of the key points instead:
Do we need 1,000 more single site RSS readers?
Unless you’re writing a graphics heavy game, odds are you’re not doing something that’s requiring you to write a native application. There already exist API calls to tap into many of those device features via the browser, and I would guess that as the tablet market diversifies, even more will be exposed. Using these APIs allows you to progressively enhance the experience of the users whose devices support it, while still providing basically the same user experience to everyone else. Additionally, HTML5 support on these devices (and anyone else who can be disconnected, like laptop users with modern browsers) opens up new capabilities for local storage, and app-like offline functionality.
The Tablet Form Factor is Here to Stay
I would guess that if nothing else, the iPad has cemented the tablet style PC as the sucessor to the netbook. Gradually, all the budget manufacturers will start making their own versions, probably powered by a free OS, probably some form of Android or Chrome OS. Ultimately, I’d guess this will eventually play out like the current PC market, where Apple will take it’s place as the higher-end leader (where they make comfortable profits) and the budget makers nickel and dime each other to death to the benefit of the consumer. As this point, your iPad app is only speaking to a small portion of your potential audience. For arguments sake, even if you have both an app and a site, wouldn’t it be better for your end users if their experience didn’t change as they moved from device to device? Additionally, as Apple’s products become just one of many in the space, how many other apps are you going to have to support that all have the same functionality?
People Will Still Have Full-Powered Computers
My experience so far has been that the iPad, although I think it’s a great device, is no threat to replacing any “real” computer of mine anytime soon. Even my cheap Dell netbook is much more up to the task once I need to write some code, or a document with beyond trial rich-text formatting, or even take notes at a reasonable clip (your experience may be different, but I’m still not comfortable or quick enough to take good notes with the iPad). On the other hand, thanks to the latest browsers embracing a lot of the new functionality offered by HTML5, you can enrich everyone’s experience on your site, instead of just making your app great, and leaving your main site, which is most likely still your break and butter, in a holding pattern.
Having said all that, I do believe that apps have their place in the world, but next time the discussion about creating one starts, you should take a good look at the spec and see if it could be done just as well on the web. As a web-developer, you should want to learn about and use these technologies, as they’re the future of your industry, and it would behoove you to stay of top of things!
I’m curious what everyone else thinks along these lines. Am I completely off my rocker here? Does this make sense but not stand a chance against the tide of apps for (insert device / OS here)?
Some recent articles on the topic: