We made what I’m hoping is going to be a major change to Chomp today, we’ve put HTML web applications side-by-side with native applications in our discovery service. With all the talk around mobile web applications recently, and then the showcase of web stack applications that Apple released last night, seems like the timing couldn’t have been better. Awesome there, very happy about that. But what I’m more hoping for is that this is the very start of a trend toward increased attention and effort going into mobile web apps. A much longer term goal.
I’ve been having the discussion about the tension between mobile web apps and native mobile apps for years now, and it seems like the whole ecosystem has been “just about to tip” for that entire time. The same issues keep coming up over and over again (distribution issues, on-device presence, access to native APIs and local data, offline usage, and montization models being more abstracted through the web than when direct sales are possible) – but it’s finally looking like enough of them have been taken care of to make the system capable of supporting significant business.
The last major chunk of the problem that I attacked was the monitization side at AdMob, who have done a fantastic job of making it possible to make money writing mobile web apps. Apple and Google have put webkit in hands, which starts to take care of native API access, offline usage, and on-device presence (though we have a ways to go there still, solid progress is being made). So the one remaining large issue, distribution. I think if we can figure out how to start getting people to mobile web apps in decent numbers, most of the other problems with the web stack will find a way to work themselves out.
There are plenty of other longer term issues we’re going to have to take a look at, like should an end user even need to know the difference between a native app and web app? As a discovery service and not a marketplace, we don’t have direct control over that – but the answer to the question and the direction of the market is going to have to inform our model of distribution. And does a direct monetization style of web app (web widget, whatever you want to call it) need to exist to blend out the advertising dollars available and raise the total pot of addressable market for mobile web content? Lots more that we need to discuss, but I’m happy that we were able to take a concrete step today toward making mobile web apps more powerful. Hopefully the first of many steps toward putting the mobile web on equal footing with native applications. Of course, if these are the kinds of questions and issues you’re interested in, come join in the effort at Chomp. We’re hiring! :-) Sorry, couldn’t resist.