I caught this post on Michael Mace’s Mobile Opportunity blog, in which he writes an obituary to mobile applications. Mace’s main point: mobile applications are on their death bed. He sums it up:
The business of making native apps for mobile devices is dying, crushed by a fragmented market and restrictive business practices. The problems are so bad that the mobile web, despite its many technical drawbacks, is now a better way to deliver new functionality to mobiles. I think this will drive a rapid rise in mobile web development, largely replacing the mobile app business.
Mace makes some very interesting points. I couldn’t agree more about the fact that letting mobile applications live on a Web portal allows for more freedom for the distributor and for the mobile customer. I too often meet with mobile application vendors and hear their struggles to team up with a carrier or be preloaded on phones. Mace addresses this:
You don’t have to get permission from a carrier. You don’t have to get anything certified by anyone. You don’t have to beg for placement on the deck, and you don’t have to pay half your revenue to a reseller. In fact, the operator, handset vendor, and OS vendor probably won’t even be aware that you exist. It’ll just be you and the user, communicating directly.
But I am not fully convinced of Mace’s argument. For the following reasons: 1. The Mobile Web can’t deliver all. Sure there are powerful mobile Web browsers like Opera Mini and Skyfire, but the mobile Web can’t deliver the functionality of stand alone applications. Take an application like ShoZu. This application lets you edit mobile pictures on the fly. I’d love to run a Web application like Picnic on my phone’s browser, but we aren’t there yet and, even when we are, native applications will still perform better, just as Microsoft Office performs better than Google Docs. 2. Connectivity. Having your mobile applications run through the browser means you have to be constantly connected to access your information. Between outages and areas without 3G connectivity, having your data or application cached on your device is appealing. The best example I have seen of this is what Matthew Miller says on his blog. He needed his on board mobile Bible application cached to his device in Church. Pulling up a mobile site in church proved to be a problem since there was no service. 3. The Elephant in the Room: Android. Lastly, I don’t think Mace can make a correct prediction until we see the first Android phones. The thousands of developers writing applications for the Android platform will depend on the phone’s operating system, not on the browser. We don’t know much about what types of applications will run on Android just yet, but we can assume they will be graphically rich just like Java applications. Android applications will be more powerful than anything we have seen on Windows Mobile or Blackberry or Palm, maybe that will change the game. Put mobile apps on the endangered species list, but they aren’t dinosaurs just yet.