Dan Hough

Native? Web? Which will prevail? It doesn't matter.

Published 12 November 2012 in London, UK

Recently, our CTO at Huddle, Jon Howell gave a thought-provoking talk at at the Future of Web Apps/Future of Mobile conference entitled Are Web Apps the Future?

In this talk, he discussed the revival of the Thick Client (i.e. native mobile apps & desktop apps), after a few years of dominance from web apps - the Thin Client.

He pointed to great apps such as Evernote, Dropbox, Spotify, and Skype encouraging this rennaissance by going against the grain creating “sexy” apps for platforms which had declined in their sexiness over the years whilst, thanks to the ubitquity of high-speed Internet connections, the web became a real player in creating great apps for consumers and businesses alike.

He also discussed how some of the web app companies in fact have created native clients for PCs & mobile. Facebook with Messenger, and their slew of mobile apps; Salesforce with Chatter Messenger (from a company, as Jon pointed out, whose -software- mantra is actually part of their logo), Google betting on both with Chrome OS and Android, and of course, Huddle with Sync and our native iOS app.

Jon went over the pros and cons of each and finally concluded with predictions for the future - where are we headed? Will native apps take over, or is the web the future? Well, he didn’t want to make any solid predictions. He gave some arguments for how the web could be the future thanks to new specs, and the types of emerging UX & Design standards which native apps have enjoyed for a while now, but also argued that web apps just can’t emulate the fidelity we get from native apps, especially in mobile.

My two cents on the subject: it doesn’t matter. The reason I say this is because up against two of most the arguments for web apps - advances in browser capabilities, prevalence of 4G - one thing stands in the way; the same reason many of us still support IE6, and most of us still support IE7: adoption.

Even when we have mobile browsers which use accelerometers, make native-esque use of built-in cameras and microphones, support local storage and have a crapload of local storage to use, and give us push notifications, it’s likely that most people won’t have these phones. Many will stick with their perfectly capable iPhone 3Gs or Galaxy Minis which have all the apps they need, the apps which support features which have been part of their phones for a long time.

In my opinion, the best we can do is create great native apps, and create great web apps, and then leave the rest up to our customers and the situation for which the app was creative. There can be no winner, and there shouldn’t be.

Finally, as Jon said in his talk, we should focus on our APIs. I’m sure that at least, we can all agree, behind every great app, be it web or native, there should be a great API.

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