A browser to resolve mobile app development confusion?

I read with interest the recent announcement by AppMobi that they are producing a browser for Apple iOS and eventually Android that will go beyond the basic HTML5 capabilities.

Typically, browser-based apps cannot access all the native capabilities of the device such as the camera and the address book. HTML5 does provide geolocation, local storage, and some other features, but that doesn’t come close to what a pure native app can give you. This has caused the growth of so called hybrid applications that use a library to provide JavaScript APIs and hence access to the native capabilities.

Hybrid apps are not pure native and not pure web, but bridge the gap in between. There are several ways of doing hybrid. PhoneGap is a popular open source technology for building hybrid apps, but there are others as well. You get to have all the display capabilities of a browser with the functionality of the underlying device.

Hybrid apps are not for every application design, but can do very well if there is a lot of network interaction, not too much necessary graphic performance, and whatever UI design you can handle in a browser with widgets coming from Dojo, jQuery, Sencha, or similar technologies.

The idea of this new browser is to include the PhoneGap and other APIs so you can write enhanced HTML5 apps with more access to the underlying features.

Is this interesting? Yes.

Does it cause people to think through the implications of native vs. hybrid vs. web? Yes.

Will people rethink app stores and how you can collect and manage apps that run in a browser? Yes.

Will it speed up development of HTML5 and mainline browser support for additional device features? Maybe.

Will this be the browser we are all using in 2 years? I really doubt it.

The web became successful because browsers became standardized. In the early days we had different browser functionality as Microsoft Internet Explorer tried to set de facto standards and Netscape tried to use real ones. Eventually Firefox, Chrome, and Safari all supported web standards, more or less, and competed on speed and quality of rendering. IE eventually caught up though it is losing share as we speak.

So I applaud AppMobi’s attempt to push the envelope here on what can be done in a mobile browser, but I think the mainline mobile browsers will eventually set the standard for how HTML5 and agreed upon extensions work.

We don’t need certain apps to require particular browsers to work. Check out this story from 2005 where the US Federal Emergency Response Agency required people to use IE to apply for aid after Hurricane Katrina.

Also see: Ars Technica – “The end of an era: Internet Explorer drops below 50% of Web usage”

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3 Responses to A browser to resolve mobile app development confusion?

  1. Roy Smith says:

    Bob,
    Thanks for the thoughtful commentary on mobiUs. We agree with your final point (“Will we all be using mobiUs in 2 years”). One key feature of mobiUs is that users don’t need to be actually using mobiUs as their browser to get the benefits. It merely needs to be installed on your phone.

    In this respect, it operates (irony warning!) more like adobe flash, in that after you have installed flash on your computer the first time, you never really need to deal with it again – use any browser you want and visit a site that requires flash. Tags in the HTML tell the browser to look for flash, which it finds and then renders the flash assets.

    mobiUs works the same way. Once installed on your phone, you can use Dolphin, Safari, whatever, and when you hit a site that has mobiUs capability, it springs into action.

    Thanks again for bringing this point to light.
    Roy Smith – VP Marketing – appMobi

  2. Bob Sutor says:

    Fair point, Roy, thanks for the clarification.

  3. Hi Bob,

    Thought provoking post. I think the issue goes a little deeper than Mobile Apps. The push-pull if you like is that developers want to use HTML/CSS/JavaScript to access “Native Device API’s”. So Phone Gap et al have created a run time web engine to allow you to do just that. However you have to build a specific web app for it to work.

    Here’s what you really want to do (and what you talk about in your post) – you want a standards based browser to be able to access ANY device side API’s whilst protecting your privacy, and then surf the web to any web site and share that data in real time.

    That actually already exists.

    I can go to ibm.com right now and instantly your web sphere services will recognize my device’s capabilities, my real time geo-location, even my personal preferences all with nothing more than a simple “script” that reads the incoming “X headers”.

    If you’d like to learn more (or download the browser for Android) please contact me offline.

    Cheers,

    Peter Cranstone
    3PMobile

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