The progress of mobile apps, those little applications people download and install on their phones, ipads and other mobile devices, are a threat to the common website. Mobile Apps are fast to install and easier to use that their web site equivalents. Will these apps end up replacing our use of the web browser?
What are Mobile Apps?
Mobile apps are those little applications people download and install on their phones, iPhones, iPads and other mobile devices. Typically identified by an icon on the screen, that expands to use the whole screen when in use. These applications add functionality to the phone, making use of the internet connectivity and other input/output devices of the phones to create unthought of applications. For example, map applications make use of the cell tower coordinates to approximate your position, then download a local map from the internet. Such applications make accessing information on a smaller device more user friendly than navigating a traditional website via a mobile web browser. They often make use of touch screens and new hand gestures that a mouse cannot emulate.
So what is happening in this Mobile App space?
Since the iPhone, with it's integrated "App Store", the downloading and installation of applications on to your phone has never been easier. You can download and install the applications right on your phone, without even plugging your phone into your computer. This has quickly been copied by many other phone makers. Since many apps are free, and most others only $1 (paid for with a preloaded credit card), there is no major obstacle to not install any application that might seem even remotely useful.
With the ability to profit from the sale of an application to large groups of users, paying a very small licence fee, a new industry has evolved around building these applications. In addition, this industry is transforming itself with "write once, deploy everywhere" APIs. Meaning that soon all your favorite applications will be available on all mobile devices, and the usage will be the same on all of them. This is akin to the early days of PC's and Macs when applications were unique to each platform, but now most common applications are very similar in each OS.
What has been happening the Web space?
The web was invented back when internet speeds were slow. It is an efficient medium for providing information and web based applications to remote users. The benefit of web based applications is that all your data was backed up on the server, new upgrades accessible to all immediately, and the applications behaved the same on most browsers and operating systems. The online applications were referred to as SAAS (software as a service) or the cloud. To a degree, the web was possibly going to be the end of desktop software. However, web browser based applications do have their pitfalls, online spreadsheets are not as fast and powerful as their desktop equivilents. Websites also do not adjust easily for different devices, and most popular websites have had to create variations of there websites for different devices. Our own website builder service will automatically detect certain phones with mini browsers, and automaticaly render a lighter version of your website.
So what is the threat to the Web?
Facebook, Google, Twitter and many other commonly used applications have built Mobile Apps specifically for accessing their internet based platforms (the data and functionality behind their website). These applications make using those social networks much easier and faster than their web equivilents. Another Mobile App called "Foursquare" has made accessing and contributing to tourist/cafe/bar reviews so fast and easy, that no website could provide such relevant and timely information.
Now with the larger format iPad, many applications are upsizing to the bigger format screen. If these applications are easier to use than their website equivalents, and only take a minute to install, then arguably we would want those applications on our desktops too.
A few software companies have now created iphone emulators. I predict we will soon see such emulators built into itunes, under the Apps tab. Perhaps a plethora of "App Browsers", a bit like a web browser, but basically emulating an iPad interface so that we can enjoy a consistent experience from desktop, to tablet, to phone when interfacing with our favourite internet platforms.
So what does this mean for Website Builder and Content Management?
We don't see this as a great threat to our website builder business, as the content saved in our databases can easily be delivered to new client applications and devices. The website will be just one of many outputs from our customers data. We are currently working on new APIs for those customers who wish to begin entering the mobile application space, or to integrate their ecommerce systems with other providers in the cloud. Perhaps we will also need to work on an iPad Mobile App so that our customers can manage their news and content more easily via their mobile devices, manage ecommerce orders and insert notes into the integrated customer database. Watch this space.
Posted: Wednesday 26 May 2010