Of browser apps and stand alone apps

Is the day over for standalone apps? Looks like it if we read the increasingly bold print from some quarters of the press. Are they?

As hardware evolves, standalone apps will find it difficult to keep pace with the changes. It makes more sense to deploy browser based apps and reach out to the millions than to build standalone apps for all platforms. Browser wars are hotting up once again as we see the browser becoming the fulcrum of all web app deployment. IE9, Firefox, Safari & Chrome are all fighting to win market share in what could be the future platform for all app development. Many users are loathed to download anything on their machines and prefer using the browser. The inertia to download an app without a clear value proposition or peer pressure is pretty high. Facebook, Google and YouTube are all primarily browser solutions. The flip side for a nascent browser app is that it becomes hard to drive traffic its way. Facebook Connect and other social media help though.

On the other hand, the advocates of standalone apps argue that they have a better business model. The browser guys, are yet to devise a sound money making proposition! Others say that a web browser only surfaces content and doesn’t really allow you to use technology as a tool. What they say is that when it comes to providing a great user experience, few web apps can beat the standalone app tailored for the underlying hardware. Remember Flipboard, Skype, Tweetdeck etc. Stand alone apps also have the advantage of distribution. The Apple store, Android app store etc. are fantastic distribution platforms. However, as app stores become larger and larger, it becomes almost as difficult to find the right app as it is to find the right web app. The distribution advantage might soon fade away.

As for the future, it’s hard to say. Though most fingers point towards web apps as the way forward, a few hardy fingers point towards standalone apps as the way to go.  Actually, the industry is in a state of flux. For example Google TV is going the ‘websites for TV’ route whereas Apple TV has taken the walled-garden route with its iTunes store and paid downloads.

Don’t miss Wired, TechCrunch and Fred Wilson’s views on the debate. Note of course there is some concern over Wired’s interpretation of Cisco’s stats. Regardless of the numbers we as a company are seeing this transition and the need to make choices.

On the app development side, Adobe AIR is trying to make software platform agnostic by making sure their runtime abstracts the hardware details. It currently is PC/Mac based and works on Linux, Windows and the Mac OS. There is an effort thru the Open Screen project to make non-PC platform development including TVs and Tablets seamless. This of course is easier said than done as there is significant effort to port AIR/Flash to use hardware acceleration on embedded processors. From a developer perspective varying screen sizes & touch screen technologies stop it from being this one seamless switch.

On the web app development side there is Chrome from Google. Google is trying to fix the problem of monetization for web apps by opening a Chrome store. In addition, because it is all web “standards” based development the Chrome browser will abstract the details of the hardware. It will however have tighter integration with the OS with the ability to pop alerts etc. just like stand alone apps. Once again the problem is that for now this will work on the Chrome browser only.

HTML5 is expected to save the world from all this confusion. But we know that HTML5 is still a few years away in maturity and capability compared to other standards. Then of course there are all the problems with the politics of making something a standard.

All said and done, it’s a time for churn. Many are beginning to take sides & lines are being drawn. Time will tell if there will be a “last man standing”.

This entry was posted in Uncategorized and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.
  • ksrikrishna

    Why does this sound familiar? Client server vs main frame application (by the way did this get resolved - are ATMs still not client server? What about that credit card swiping device at the gas station?) - or thin client vs PC (I believe PC won this) - and of course having lived through the WiFi vs Bluetooth - isn't it more likely that some local minima will be reached, for a protracted period of time, where they will co-exist. I suspect the smart Phone vs PC war will have a big impact on browser vs standalone app.

    Guess the blogosphere and mainstream media have to find fights where none may exist. Of course those of us trying to make a judgement call of where to apply our scarce engineering resources still have a real problem :(

blog comments powered by Disqus