Michael Mace posted a great wrapup of a few threads that have been going around with respect to native vs browser based mobile development. He does a great job of laying down a nice linear story about the evolving development environment. And of course everyone who had an interest in seeing native mobile application development continue is all up in arms about his statements. I agree, kinda, but not really completely.
Of course this isn’t a black and white question. It’s not that mobile web apps have suddenly magically hit some threshold and now native apps will never be used for anything. It’s an analog value of course. Mobile web apps are getting better, the browsers more robust, the devices more capable. What’s happening is that while you HAD to write a native or Java app in the past in order to get a passable product to market, you can do more and more just using the browser.
Same exact thing as the desktop market. Pause, take a deep breath. Yes, same exact thing as the desktop market. Sure there are differences down in the details, and that doesn’t mean that mobile apps are going to be exactly like desktop apps. The market forces in play are the same. Web apps mean easier distribution, faster release cycle, higher leverage on improving the base platform, decreased barrier to entry, etc. And a third time, same exact thing as the desktop market.
Does that mean that native application development is dead on mobiles? Well, do you use any native applications on your desktop? Most people still do, but you use them when it makes sense to have a native app instead of a web based one. The same thing should shake out in mobile. That just means that native apps should be used where having a native app delivers actual increased value. Which I’m sure is what the folks defending native apps are most afraid of, needing to actually defend their position in the face of competition. That’s going to be rough, they’re so used to having a captive audience.
The overall statement from Michael I agree with however:
If you’re a mobile developer, you should consider stopping native app development and shifting to a mobile-optimized website.
Yes, that you should do. Step back and honestly ask yourself “can I do this on the mobile web instead more easily?” The answer might be no still, but for an increasing group of people it’s going to be yes. Take into account the off-deck monetization models available with advertising (and I do hope direct monetization will enter the mix soon on a global scale) and distribution through either advertising or searches (Google is sucking up as many partners as it can get to make its service the default) and the overall environment available for direct to consumer mobile web apps is starting to look like a viable alternative even when compared to native app development coupled with carrier partnerships. Because the off-deck ecosystem benefits from more network effects than the carrier model we should see it keep rolling right along now that it’s started to tip.
Update: The conversation going on around this thread has been great, plenty of bright people with excellent points to contribute. If you’re following it make sure to also read these posts: