Web Apps on Mobile Devices: Yay or Nay?

Although it’s part of my job to stay current in the world of web apps, it’s also a passion of mine. I love the web, cloud-based computing and all the exciting possibilities it holds for the future. However, I’m not exactly enthralled with web apps on mobile devices such as smartphones or tablets. But, why not?

Let’s take a look into the wonderful world of mobile web apps, shall we?

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The Mobile Web

Remember when phones first started getting the capabilities to browse the web? It was horrible. Browsing the web on a little flip phone was a joke but it was an exciting idea. Then smartphones came along and eventually became affordable, making web browsing a little less horrible. Then came the iPhone…

With the introduction of the iPhone, everything changed. The browser was actually good; it was actually usable. At this point little effort had been invested into mobile browser compatibility, but that didn’t matter for the iPhone since it could nearly render websites the same as your desktop; the iPhone bridged the gap.

iPhone Web Apps

iPhone Web Apps

Shortly after the introduction of the iPhone, web developers began making iPhone optimized versions of their websites (and now Android and BlackBerry). As nice as it was to access Facebook via browser on the iPhone, it was still far better using a native app. So, while the mobile web made a huge leap forward, it still had a long ways to go (and still does).

Mobiles & the Modern Web (HTML5 & CSS3)

So the iPhone bridged the gap between the horrible mobile web and the desktop web we wanted on our phones. Then came the adoption of HTML5 and, more rapidly, CSS3. HTML5 meant properly developed mobile web apps could semi-rival native mobile apps. CSS3 reduced the load of graphics necessary to achieve some of the same beautiful interfaces and enhanced browsing speed.

Web Technology

Web Technology

HTML5 also meant offline capabilities, something native apps held over web apps for a long time, and to some extent still do. As new web technologies continue to advance, the gap in capabilities between mobile web apps and native web apps will likely close. So why doesn’t this sound like a promising future for web apps? Read on.

Native Apps vs Mobile Web Apps

Native mobile apps hold several advantages over web apps that I’m not sure web apps will ever be able to overcome.

Hardare & Software

For starters, native apps are much more capable of taking advantage of the mobile device’s hardware capabilities. That, of course, extends into the operating system as well. Native apps that are programmed well for the operating system they run on will likely always outperform web apps. Why? There’s not a third layer to deal with (the browser) and web technology advances much slower, so it will always lag behind (especially on mobile systems).

It’s also important to note that many web apps aren’t actually coded all that well, bringing a possibly serious quality issue aspect into the picture.

The App Store

Hardware and software limitations aside, web apps have another huge hurdle to overcome before the masses would ever really adopt them. The app store, whether Apple’s or one on another platform, is not only convenient but also easy. The app store offers a centralized location to find new apps, view reviews and ratings, purchase and install from.

Apple's App Store

Apple's App Store

Until web apps can be offered as conveniently and easily as current native mobile apps, they just won’t stand a chance at mass adoption.

Gaming

Games

Games

One of the most enticing aspects of the iPhone or competing Android phone, is their gaming capabilities. Go dig through the Top 25 section in the app store and you’ll notice they’re almost all games. It’s doubtful web apps will ever, or at least anytime in the near future, compete in this space on mobile devices; not that they really need to.

What Do You Think?

While there’s certainly a great collection of web apps available for todays popular mobile devices, my general response to the question, “mobile devices: yay or nay?”, is almost always nay. I consistently find myself wishing some of the web apps I use occasionally were actually native (like Gmail).

What do you think? Do you use web apps often on your mobile device? Or maybe you avoid them like the plague? Let us know in the comments below, I’d love to hear your thoughts. Thanks!