Why iPhone Web Apps are Still Worthwhile

I’ve been playing with iPhone development for a month now and I’ve understood the concepts and am ready to make my first app, but I haven’t.

See, my first exposure to the iPhone world was through a web app my company made for its partner group. It was a simple ruby on rails web app that used my patched version of iUI to drive the experience. It was such a big hit that I’m currently finishing up a third demo branch of this for a client, hoping to convince them that even large organisations can get on the mobile bandwagon. So, you may ask, why isn’t it being done as a native app? Well, there’s a lot of good reasons, but what it really boils down to is that if you’re writing a native app for the iPhone, you’re only writing it for the iPhone.

At Mobile World Congress this week we’ve seen new Android devices, new Windows Mobile devices and more of the Palm Pre, devices that have one important thing in common with the iPhone, a web connection and a browser.

The best thing about all of them having a browser is that 3 of the 4 run a version of Webkit with Apple’s transforms and animations built in (Windows Mobile users can download Opera ;-)) So, really, when you’re creating a web app for an iPhone, you’re creating a web app for all other mobile devices with a half-decent browser (S60 included).

How much work would it be to port an Objective-C (iPhone)-based app to Java (S60 and Android) and then to .NET (Windows Mobile), only to have to create a web-based version for the Palm Pre! What all these iPhone developers need to understand is that if they want the full potential of the market they’d better start learning HTML5 databases and Javascript. Web apps are certainly still worthwhile.

All that said, App stores can’t push web sites to your phone, which is the main source of advertising and how the iPhone apps have become so successful. Maybe Apple should allow you to browse web apps too?

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Steve Workman

Steve is an engineering manager at Maersk, and organises BerkshireJS. He has also worked at Yell and PA Consulting and is a former organiser of London Web Standards

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One comment

  1. Keith said:

    Thanks for your notes on iPhone Web Apps. What are your thoughts on your patched version of iUI supporting MSIE? I ask this because we’re hoping our iPhone web app may double as an embedded widget usable on social sites. Best regards, -Keith

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