back to article Apps overrated in mobile web wars

Apple' iOS has over 425,000 apps, with over 15 billion downloaded, according to Apple. Google Android? It has 250,000-plus, but that number is growing at a faster pace than iOS. According to research by Adobe and Forrester, however, a rising number of developers may decide to forego the arms apps race entirely, preferring …

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Stop

Yeah right.

40% of people would rather play stuttering flash games designed for mice and keyboards than native mobile games? I don't believe Adobe's numbers for a second.

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Childcatcher

Yep

99% of iFanboys make exaggerated criticisms of Flash, cos they can't use it.

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Facepalm

Re: Yep

And 99% of fandroids say it's fantastic, but when grilled about it even Adobe's own CEO admits it only works well on the RIM Playbook.

"

Narayen (Adobe's CEO): [..] We’ve done that with Android. We will have 130 million phone devices that will have Flash on them by the end of the year…

Walt Mossberg: And I have yet to test a single one where Flash works really well. I’m sorry. They struggle on those Android devices."

This was in June 3, 2011 btw, it hasn't improved that much since then.

Here's the video: http://allthingsd.com/video/?video_id=7425A8A1-9A90-4024-A44C-2E25A6ED03ED

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Happy

Video

I've found the 10.3 update to work well for video on my htc desire. 10.2 was a pain to get full screen, but that seems fixed now.

I don't play shitty games of any sort, I have work to do.

One of those things, yes it would be nice to have HTML5 video working, but hey, flash works now.

I customarily have it switched off for normal browsing, and switch it on when I want to watch sombre video or other. The handset gets quite warm when I'd running for a while, and yes, it drains the battery.

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Video

I have to say that since I got 2.3 and the latest "flash" on my Desire Z video has been a very decent experience. No lagging or jittering. Pleasantly surprised, impressed even.

-:)

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Re: Yep

I have Flash on my N8, but I still find it difficult to believe that so many people prefer an online gaming experience to a native app.

In fact I have found that flash apps often don't scale properly to the screen and either look terrible or don't work at all; that's not a criticism of Flash, it's just rubbish development.

I got no indication that the OP was a fanboi, I think you're being overly sensitive. Or do you work for Adobe?

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Happy

New FT.com case in point

The new ft.com site (http://m.ft.com) optimised for iphone/ipad to bypass Apple's restriction on the customer relationship is a great example of what can be done well. An optimised mobile experience instead of a platform specific app.

There are specific optimised versions for ipad and galaxy tab, so platform specialisation is still necessary and being done - but the FT / Pearson Group maintain the direct relationship with the customer; not Apple, Android, Samsung or the Carriers.

Content is still king in the end.

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Anonymous Coward

For page oriented content it makes sense

But hardly for all.

Also wake me up when FT really drops their apps and forces people on to their website. It was actually funny, the day they announced their optimised website (last month) an update for their app also came out.

For now there's still a choice and I would be curious to know how many tablet readers use the optimised website vs the "old" app.

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Why not?

"(I, personally, would never attempt to develop a first-person shooter game to run in a browser)"

Do you, personally, develop FPS games at all?

If not, then your comment is meaningless.

If you do, you may want to reconsider. While it may not be ready for a full-blown commercial implementation yet, WebGL certainly opens up the possibility (I've seen one engine for WebGL already that's capable of processing Quake maps quite efficiently.)

Never say never.

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Quake Live

I agree totally - and a perfect example is Quake Live - update to Quake 3 that is browser based and runs perfectly (on a PC of course). But the potential is there for similar to be realized for mobile phones in the future.

MK

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Anonymous Coward

Ummm, no.

"as experience indicates well that the more programs and bloatware installed, the more poorly your system will run."

No it doesn't, what year are you living in? The only resource used by apps (when they aren't actively running) is Flash storage space, they don't impact on system performance at all.

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Meh

+++ath0 - Don't forget home screen/menu space.

How are you going to find one particular app if you've got hundreds installed?

You're either going to have to spend ages flipping between the fifty different Home screens, or type into that search bar. Search gets slower when there's more installed...

Not to mention that the only reason why iOS Apps don't slow down the machine very much when you've got loads installed is because it simply doesn't do pre-emptive multitasking. When that changes, you'll find that assumption of yours mysteriously goes out of the window.

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"There shouldn't have to be an App for that..."

I'm not a huge fan of Windows Phone 7, but its design does make one very good point - a lot of the stuff that iOS requires Apps for, is just viewing a stream of information from some external source, and should be combined into one place.

So, you need a Twitter app, a Facebook app, a Picasa app, a LinkedIn app, five different "Blog X reader" apps, and so on, when what you actually wanted was a way of seeing what's new on the various blogs/profiles/channels/feeds that interest you.

iOS5 shows that Apple themselves are moving to this model, with its "Notifications" panel. My bet is that the next iOS will give it even more prominence so that after that, you won't be buying "Apps" on the iTunes store, but subscribing to podcasts/blogs/etc. and letting the OS deal with the presentation. As it should be.

The other broad category of app is the "repackaged website", and the Apple App store is stuffed to the gills with these. Their days are definitely numbered. Mobile browsers are now good enough on all platforms (i.e. those making up 80-90% of the phones people have) that a company can just make a mobile website to work on all browsers, rather than pay three different devs to get good market coverage with three apps. Given that 90%+ of mobiles run a version of WebKit, this is actually an easier task than for desktop web. (Here's an example of a typical "read our articles" app done in CSS3/HTML5 alone: http://www.developer.nokia.com/Community/Wiki/How_much_interface_can_you_fit_into_a_single_icon%3f )

I don't often agree with Matt, but he's right here: drilling up and down into the various app "silos" is not a pleasant way of accessing infromation. It's based on the desktop computer metaphor, and it works there because the larger screens and multitasking allows the user to look at several windows in parallel, flipping between them with just a keystroke, something that's not so easy on a mobile (and, to me, iOS has the poorest task-switching UI). If the content is web-based, then the web-browser is the place to access it - the platform provider can then improve their web-browser.

Ironically, this would be a return home for iOS: its excellent web browser was the iPhone's major selling point when launched - the App Store didn't arrive for a year after its launch, and then only after some very heavy lobbying from developers.

Don't get me wrong: There is a place for apps - offline content, tools, games, creative utilites come to mind. But for the majority of stuff on the app stores, which just organise and format online content for consumption, there are better ways to deal with it.

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Apple vs Android?

This "research" (it was conducted by Adobe, who have a vested interest in promoting web-based content) is hard to analyse without knowing what the breakdown of the mobile phone platforms used was.

If it was all iOS phones, then it might be useful - but if there were a lot of Android/Win7/WebOS/Symbian phones as well (lacking as many dedicated apps), then the web-based stuff may well get a greater boost. We're not even told how may are smartphones, for heck's sake.

Until we're told more, I tend to mistrust research like this. And so should El Reg.

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Anonymous Coward

Comparing bad native apps to good web apps?

Quote: " I don't want to dive into an app to search for Rossignol S7s, then resurface so that I can dive into a separate app, then do the same thing over and over again."

A native app is capable of doing everything you see in a browser window. If you are forced to switch apps, it may be a sign that the app developer is trying to channel your attention into a specific domain. This isn't bad in itself - plenty of web sites attempt to do the same. But there's no particular reason why an app has to do that. It could just as easily summarise data from a variety of sources.

The key difference with a native app is that it can present a consistent user interface to the user, i.e. one that looks and feels the same as everything else they use. Web apps have absolutely no consistency of presentation or use, especially if they use plugins like Flash.

Native apps are also very targeted. The app is designed to address a specific problem, and is therefore easy to access and very efficient in use. Again, web apps can be difficult to get to and often lack focus (even if it's a mass of advertising flashing and blinking all over the place).

And finally, you can't rely on access to a web page either - if your Internet connection goes down (or the host server), so does all your functionality. There are rare instances where an app doesn't work, but I routinely have problems with web pages.

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Ease of use

I think Ralph's right - it's about ease of use.

I can think of 3 things which I've used both as a dedicated app and as a web site (ebay, The Times newspaper and the Next directory) and in each case I think the dedicated app is easier to use than the web site. Perhaps this is because the app is designed specifically for a hardware platform whereas the web site has to be able to be presented to any machine capable of running a browser?

No-one wants to have to download an app for every web site they might visit, but for activities performed sufficiently regularly, a well-designed dedicated app probably has the edge.

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Mushroom

What about fart apps?

Is it better to have fart web pages or fart apps? There is a reason web pages are just as good as most apps. It's because most apps are shite as they all need an internet connection. Add to that they are inherently web apps and not native apps and folks are right to figure, why bother?

Seriously, why the fuck should it be so hard to find a calendar app, even a pay app, that doesn't _require_ either exchange or google? FFS, there are even note taking apps that take notes on "the cloud" and can't do it locally. Seriously, something simple like "pick up wine / beer / milk on the way home"... oh no, it's RTM cloud app.

umount /dev/soapbox

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Anonymous Coward

Then number of apps is irrelevant

The Apple fanbois are always bragging about how many apps there are. When they had 100,000 and Android had 3,000 they said the real negative with Android was it didn't have very many apps. Now Android has 250,000 and it still seems to be a problem. I'd like to see a show of hands for people who've installed 250,000 apps on their device. Or even 1000 or even 250 for that matter. How many apps do we need? If your OS is designed with any sort of forethought you probably need 20-30 apps tops and they're probably games. Why do sites have custom RSS readers that are locked into ONE site?

I have a Nokia n900 and there's 600 apps in the "appstore". I'm only missing 2 apps that I had on my Android phone that I wish I had. Seems the right amount of apps for me is 622.

Oh, and I've been using flash on Nokia devices for years and it works just fine.

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App vs Web

I've been using the mentioned PhoneGap for over a year now and it does gives the best, and possibly the worst of both worlds. It basically instantiates a chromeless browser and loads html/js/css in. It then also has a set of js library apis that allow the code to interact with the hardware. So, in effect you have a native app.

The issues raise about inconsistancy of design I've not come across. Or rather, I've seen them in apps but there's no real reason for them to be there. It's not that difficult in a web app to mimic the user interface of a native app. JQTouch does it *very* well for instance. But I think this stems from the problems we used to have back in the dial up days of the net. You could either program, and your site worked very well but looked like a pile of dung, or you could design and the site looked lovely but took half an hour to load. Since then web developers have had to understand and work with designers, and designers have had to learn how the web works. This will come to app. A lot of apps being built are by single person companies, or people giving it a go for the first, second or third time. Once it settles down the good design and consistency will come back.

Another point raised was that apps clog up resources compared to just visiting a website. This is true. You visit a website and the resources are put into your cache, you download the app and they're saved on your memory card. Lots of apps, lots of graphics, sounds, etc and you soon fill that card up. The app doesn't have to be running to use up resources.

There are occasions to use an app (web or native) over a website though, when you want access to the local hardware such as the camera, file system, accelerometer, etc, or when you want to be able to guarantee you can use the app when there's no signal. Try accessing the web on a phone inside an old museum, it's not going to happen.

It all comes down to what you actually want to achieve. If you're not wanting to access the device's hardware and your not needing it to be always available, then the reasons to build an app from a technical perspective diminish. From a users perspective though, there will always be the presence icon reminding them it's there. There will be occasional updates reminding them it's there (and I know that some companies schedule minor updates when they see usage drop off) and there always seems to be something in a user's mind that says a packaged app is better than a website. Not sure why, but there does.

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Anonymous Coward

Customers and money

Personally, I do use the ebay app, for the simple reason that I don't need to login every time, and using a fiddly too small keyboard to do so (and one that is particularly awkward if your password is long and contains non-alphabetical characters).

The same applies for a few other shopping apps, like BrandAlley - particularly as I can't recall the passwords for half of these.

Of course, all this goes away if a decent solution comes along for mobile authentication via the browser.

Multi-tasking / task-switching is another - I know from the desktop that a bunch of browser tabs soon gets pretty useless. It's a step backwards from the improvements we've made in window management since the 80s.

The other thing to consider is what the user wants - I get the impression a lot of developers are presuming cross-platform before anything else, when that is rarely a requirement at the point of sale. No Windows user ever asked if an application was available on Mac, or vice versa. The exception is businesses running mixed environments.

Lastly - until something like the Chrome Web Store becomes a significant channel for selling Apps, then native development is going to remain the better funded channel. Again, this isn't insurmountable, but it's going to take a lot more effort than Google are currently putting in.

(Consider how much better Amazon are doing).

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Boffin

There's an app for that...

My favourite saying, which I find applicable in a good proportion of cases:

There's an app for that... it's called a web browser

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I think it comes down to a question of website optimization,

and that's an issue in both the mobile and desktop market. On my phone, I tend to use an app to scan Drudge because it reformats the information in a way that I can read then follow the link to actual article. On my desktop I use the website because at desktop size the website is suitable. But in the past I have had problems with sites that are designed for higher graphics resolutions than I was running on my desktop. Some sites really ought to have an app though. For instance I have a browser page saved on my phone to update me on the status/location of the commuter train I take. This being the States and all, they aren't near as regular as they are for Brits and if the train is going to be ungodly late, I don't have to wait for Charlie Brown adult voice announcements over the loudspeakers.

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