Thursday, August 19th, 2010

Will Native Mobile Applications Wither Away?

Category: Mobile

James Pearce has started a fascinating series, called, trying to rewrite the BBC iPhone application and other native mobile apps using HTML5. From the kickoff blog post:

WhitherApps is a bandwagon-busting experiment. I believe there are far too many native client apps which could have been far better written as mobile web apps. What we’re going to try and do is take a few examples, apply a little reverse-engineering, and rewrite them, warts and all, with web technologies.

James has already produced three blog posts rewriting the BBC iPhone app but with HTML5 (Part I, Part II, Part III). I encourage you to read them. He’s already gotten impressively far; here is a screenshot of the HTML5 app so far:

[via kenguish]

Posted by Brad Neuberg at 5:00 am

3 rating from 3 votes


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I had the exact same idea when I saw first this app. There’s absolutely nothing here that couldn’t be easily done using HTML5 and CSS3, particularly if you target only Mobile Safari. I actually made a start at a similar clone, except I tried the fun part of duplicating the interface first. I had something looking pretty much identical in just a few hours.

Comment by Amtiskaw — August 19, 2010

The main driver behind which technology is used is how much market share you can get with it, and the key differentiator for that on mobile devices is app store visibility. As long as web apps are locked out of the app stores, native will remain the go-to technology.

Comment by Joeri — August 19, 2010

For free apps, you’re probably right. For paid apps, not a chance.

Comment by kissmyawesome — August 19, 2010

The screenshot you’re using of his “progress” is actually a screenshot of the iPad app. Here’s the actual screenshot of his progress. Still very impressive, but not quite what you were showing.

Comment by meirish — August 19, 2010

I had a major (Foturne 50) company come to me about creating content for one of their mobile apps. They didn’t want to go native, because it would of required them to write at least 4 native apps, possibly more as newer platforms (WinMoPhone 7) emerge. They wanted a 100% cross-platform app, coded using HTML 5.

The beauty here, is we all know HTML and JS very well, and within a few short days, their prototype was ready.

If I had to write an iOS, Android and BlackBerry app, 6 weeks later, I would still be debugging it.

James Pearce is my new hero :)

Comment by PuckPuck — August 19, 2010

I made this switch about a year ago (going from a iPhone native app to HTML 5 based app). As a result, it has all of the benefits that the native app had (offline access, speed, etc), but it works on iPhone, webOS, Android, Firefox mobile, and now BlackBerry OS 6. If I tried to write that many native apps it just wouldn’t be possible.

Certain things aren’t fast enough yet (like games), but in the world of information based apps, I can’t think of a reason to write native code, it just limits the audience.

Comment by tazzben — August 19, 2010

If you’re not writing a native iPhone app, can you get it in the app store? I assume no… Does a non-native iPhone app (in HTML5 and CSS3) mean you do some userAgent sniffing and redirect requests to (where m implies mobile)? This then requires users bookmarking your site, correct? Is there a way to get that bookmark on the iPhone’s home screen so it “looks” like a native app you just click and it opens up?

I don’t have an iPhone and I’m curious how a non-native app would work.

Comment by cancelbubble — August 19, 2010

@Joeri : webapps can easily be packaged as a native app using UIWebViews (although i’ve heard it is a little bit slower than running in the real safari app)

I would really be interested in seeing it live and compare its responsiveness with the native one…

Comment by BgSimple — August 19, 2010

It is possible to wrap a web app in a native app to get it into the app store. You would also have the ability to go hybrid: use the native wrapper to give the web app more access to the iPhone API, or even use some native UI elements such as tab bars or a native settings screen while using the web app for the content.

Comment by adunn — August 19, 2010

This is one of those things that scares me — web apps are far more powerful when it comes to running easily on many different mobile operating systems, but even simple “book” apps seem to be written in native code now…

Comment by mdmadph — August 19, 2010

While I agree that web apps in the mobile space make a lot more sense from a developer time investment vs. user benefit, I just am pessimistic about the app stores and their distortion of the mobile app space. If your app is not in an app store, it might as well not exist. Yes, you can wrap a web app in a native container, but then it ceases to be a web app (all user-visible benefits of it being web-based are lost).
The huge amount of native mobile apps compared to the limited range of web mobile apps demonstrates that “ease of development” isn’t getting the mobile web anywhere. In the real world mobile developers seem to pick one or two platforms and build only for those.

Comment by Joeri — August 19, 2010

This screenshot is of the original app, not the HTML one… Might want to fix that.

Comment by theturtle32 — August 19, 2010

you got the picture wrong!

the picture you are showing as the html5 app is the native app, as you can read in his latest post above the picture you are wrongly showing: “And, if you compare it with a screen shot of the real thing, you’ll see we’re actually not doing too badly:”

the real state of the html5 app is this:
and it is still far from the native app!

don’t get me wrong i really hope to see the mobile web move ahead, but we have to be truthful and that is what i expect when i read ajaxian, the real and truthful state of things!

i don’t expect you to be imparcial. of course ajaxian prefers html5 to flash, you are ajaxian not flashian, but i do expect you to get your facts straight. as your frequent reader and follower i don’t have the time to check if all your posts are truthful and this kind of error really mines my trust in your posts.

Comment by herkulano — August 19, 2010

Well yeah, as far as this article goes I don’t think native apps will “wither away” just because it’s easy to clone one in HTML. At this point a mobile web app just isn’t the same as the real thing for many reasons, including app store visibility. The mobile environment would have to change, but anything is possible. Certainly the maturity of mobile web frameworks could have an impact in the near future, or sites like OpenAppMkt that may at some point be copied by the cell companies if they feel that the demand is there and they are missing out. But ultimately, who knows.

(I don’t actually know anything about developing for webOS)

Comment by adunn — August 20, 2010

Um, yeah. Ignore that last line. I was going to say something about webOS, but changed direction.

Comment by adunn — August 20, 2010

Wasn’t there an open source framework for doing native wrappers for HTML5-apps ?

If not, maybe there should be. :-)

Comment by SilentLennie — August 22, 2010

We made a similar experiment in our company by recreating the app of a local newspaper:

Comment by euklid — August 22, 2010

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