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The Irony of Mobile Users Preferring Apps Over Web

Posted by Bob Warfield on August 13, 2010

Apparently, mobile users prefer apps over the web.  At least that’s Gowalla CEO Josh Williams’ view:

“People love apps, but it drives a stake in the heart of the build-once-deploy-everywhere model, and makes the market really fragmented.”

I’m not surprised.  Heck, I prefer apps too.  But the irony is that Apple has but a bullet in the one solution that lets you have apps and a build-once-deploy-everywhere model:  Flash/Flex.

Sure, Apple wants apps not rich browser experiences.  They’re trying to control developer mindshare before more open solutions get going with too much momentum, once more leaving them to their walled garden as happened in the PC versus Mac race.  There is only so much developer mindshare, and if you lock them down writing apps in dev tools that essentially only work on the iPhone or iPad, its hard for their great apps to be available elsewhere. 

We don’t hear tremendous talk about RIA’s (Rich Internet Apps) anymore, it seems.  Perhaps the concept is dated.  I continue to think it is a great idea.  People talk about Flash/Flex largely in terms of video and ignore the RIA side.  Some argue they don’t even like RIA’s, and prefer a basic web page-style UI.  Personally, I think the web page UI is fine for certain things, but it isn’t much better than the old 3270 green screens, which were also fine for some things.  The problem isn’t that apps need to be more like web pages, its that browsers need to support more app-like behavior.  Flash/Flex does that today beautifully, except Steve Jobs won’t tolerate it on his mobile platforms because he’s trying to deny developer mindshare to his competitors.

For those that think it’s slow and buggy, think again.  It’s actually capable of some pretty amazing stuff, even 3D games.  I’ve lately been spending a fair amount of time programming 3D graphics in an Open Source Flash package called Away3D and have been very impressed.  I’ve also spent a lot of time with Adobe AIR, and am likewise impressed.  Not only can you run on any browser, you can run disconnected on the desktop too.  It works great on PC, Mac, and Linux, same code across all desktops and browsers. 

I haven’t seen another option that gives so much flexibility.  HTML5 is a long long way from it.

6 Responses to “The Irony of Mobile Users Preferring Apps Over Web”

  1. perpetapaul said

    Bob – I agree that RIA’s do give a better user experience most of the time, but one of the things I can say about using Flash (or Flex, now called Flash Builder) it that is leaves a lot to be desired for true data-driven applications. There are many feature additions to Flash for data-driven applications, but many of them are very buggy and tedious to use.

    We continue to develop interfaces using it, but I can say that it is not my first choice any longer. I would rather go back to more ajax-driven, html and css layouts that have some user interaction and nice styling as we wait for HTML 5.


  2. dharmeshs said

    I’m totally with you regarding apps creating a fragmented market. I’ve suffered through this pain recently (played around with some iPhone development).

    However, I’m not sure that Flex/Flash is going to be the long-term winner. It has had plenty of time to “take hold”, but never really became mainstream. I tend to think that technologies that don’t hit some sort of “escape velocity” within a reasonable period of time are less and less likely to do so. My vote is going to be HTML5. Still early and not as flexible, but that’s where I’d put my bet. That or one of the mobile frameworks like jqTouch or Sencha.

  3. smoothspan said

    Actually, in terms of what you can do with HTML5 today, Flash is totally mainstream and way ahead of it. No end of video streamers use it and a number of said they won’t go to HTML5 until the DRM is right.

    What remains to be seen is how long it takes for HTML5 to get mainstream for creating RIA’s.

    As for whether Flex is mainstream for RIA’s, that’s an interesting question too. You could as easily argue RIA’s are not mainstream as that Flex isn’t mainstream. It’s in use a lot more places than you’d think simply because the Flash player is so ubiqitous it can be silently integrated with AJAX. Yahoo and Google both use it, for example.

    Let’s face it, if Steve Jobs hadn’t decided to get his knickers in a twist, we wouldn’t even be having this argument.



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