Amazon’s recent launch of Kindle Cloud is pointing to an interesting possibility with regards to mobile applications.
There are two core components to which I want to draw attention.
Second is the database. Because the application utilizes a database that is tied into the browser (the browser allows web applications to do so through APIs) the web application can store information locally.
Before I point out the interesting possibility, let’s dig into what makes an OS-native application (whether it’s Windows or iOS) beneficial to the user. First, it can store data locally. So, the user is always ensured that what they are working on remains available to them whether they are connected to a network or not. Second, the application can take advantage of system-related components. In the case of iOS, this means the developer can tap into the camera, accelerometer, etc.
In the case of Kindle Cloud, there is no reason to utilize any system level components. The browser’s integration with the components already exposes numerous functions and methods by which Kindle Cloud could tap into if needed.
So, given that the application can store locally and even make use of some basic system components, what is the point of building a native application? I argue that there is none. And that leads us to the interesting possibilities.
Apple’s recent terms-of-service change impacted a lot of application developers. Of course, many already employed the in-application purchasing provided by Apple as part of the application hosting services. But many developers opted not to have that because they did not want to provide Apple an additional share of revenue. So what if application developers, those who don’t need access to core system functionality, decide to sack their native applications and opt for web (like Kindle Cloud)? That might significantly impact the overall value of the AppStore to the end customer. I could image many of my applications being replaced by browser shortcuts instead (and I could even imagine another application coming out that allowed me to replace the browser shortcuts with actual icons). What’s more, a savvy application developer could come out with a “middleware” application (provided through the AppStore) that enables developers to gain access to core system components by exposing them via APIs that connect to the browser APIs thereby enabling web apps to utilize things like the camera.
Whatever happens, it’s clear that Apple has unleashed a potentially industry-changing trend quite unwittingly. I’m sure they never saw Amazon’s move to this and figured that developers would simply comply with the new terms. But now that the genie is out of the proverbial bottle, the concept of “the browser as the platform” has a whole new meaning.
ReadWriteWeb posted a similar discussion around how this will “bring down Apple’s walled garden.” All of the stuff I have been reading definitely discusses the same salient points: there’s a new option for developers now that may erode at the foundation of the need to have native apps on the iPhone and other mobile OS.
ReadWriteWeb (again) posted a great piece on the potential of “web-app” stores for mobile devices. So instead of Apple’s store for native apps, you get third-party stores for web-apps built on HTML5. All you have to do is add the web app to your phone screen (like a shortcut; then you can organize it like an app). Using cookies, it can store authentication information.
Recently messing around on the iPhone (looking at YouTube videos posted on Facebook through the Facebook app) and got prompted by YouTube to “install their web app” (i.e., put a shortcut on my home screen).
Will this eventually replace the YouTube native iOS app enabling them to solicit content (and sell other stuff)?
A great post by RWW talking about the recent re-design of DropBox’s mobile website to more resemble a native app. This is increasingly becoming the norm as cross-browser technologies (like JS and CSS and HTML 5) enable app-like experiences that are not mired in the requirements of native apps. And with the Kindle Cloud app demonstrating the use of local storage, there’s no need for a dedicated app for a service like DropBox.
An interesting blog post postulating the birth of an HTML 5 app store:
From the article:
“Ultimately over time, a significant migration away from native apps to web apps could have meaningful repercussions for the mobile industry: users would gain portability of apps across devices, and the browser would assume an increasingly important role for users at the expense of the device’s OS,” Sacconaghi wrote in a report, as noted by Barron’s. “This would reduce differentiation among the user experience across devices, lower barriers to switching and accordingly, heighten handset competition—pressuring margins.”
Originally posted 2011-08-10 10:50:21.