On mobile applications

by Volker Weber

Apple is throwing around some numbers. More than 100,000 apps in the iTunes Apps Store, more than two billion downloads. PC World says that only 20% of those apps are being installed. Yes, it's being hard to get noticed in the app store. But does that matter to the users? I think it does not.

What matters are two things: if you need to augment your mobile experience on an iPhone, you will find apps and websites that cater to your needs. And if you are a service provider in one way or the other you will have to take iPhone users into account. They expect you to be there with an app or at least a website.

If you want to serve your customers, you better think about mobile. If you do think about mobile, the iPhone is probably at the top of your list.

But what's beyond the iPhone? You can't build native apps for all other promising platforms, have beens and whatnot. If you are in the travel industry, chances are your customers have either an iPhone or a BlackBerry and actually use it beyond texting and calling. The BlackBerry isn't as simple. Yes, RIM has a good App World by now, but many BlackBerries are locked down by IT. Can't install anything on them. Then there is Android, webOS, Symbian, Windows Mobile (a.k.a. The Horror).

There is one common theme amongst those platforms: webkit. Think about building with HTML, CSS, Javascript. RIM talks about it, Nokia does, Palm has chosen it as the development environment for webOS. It won't be write once, run anywhere. But your apps are going to be portable with reasonable effort.

Start working now.


Bingo. The idea that one device will dominate the entire mobile market is just wrong. The web is the endgame for mobile app development and distribution just as it has become on the desktop. Palm are ahead of the game on this with webOS, but Apple and Google know this too. Safari on iPhone and the Android 2.0 browser have some of the best HTML5 support found in any browser, mobile or otherwise. Geolocation, offline application cache, database API.

Native to device apps will always have their place, but mostly for games and apps that *truly* need to touch the metal.

Developers who focus on building with open web technologies will inherit the (mobile) earth.

Jeff Gilfelt, 2009-11-05

You are making some good points here Volker.

About a year ago we had to decide which way to chose when developing mobile clients for our time tracking application (timr.com). We already had developed a BlackBerry client because the first customer had deployed those devices in his company. It was a native BlackBerry application written in Java.

We wanted to create clients for iPhone, Android and Windows Mobile too. Of course we thought about creating a web UI that could be used by all of the devices (at least the basics) but for out goal of creating a really fast and easy to use client a web UI was not the right thing. Using GPS and other device specific API's is also difficult from a webapp.

Maybe this changes in the future - I am really looking forward to see a Webkit browser on the BlackBerry and I am thinking about developing a client for the Pre too.

Thomas Einwaller, 2009-11-05

Thomas, that looks like a sweet application. Don't need to track my time, but if I would ...

Volker Weber, 2009-11-05

Thanks Volker, we get good feedback so far ... if we get feedback.

What we have learned so far the most important thing when developing apps for the Apple App Store, RIM App World and Android Market is to make the entrance for the user as smooth as possible.

You do not get much feedback - only about 5 percent of the users will contact you. This means you may get a bad review but you will have to figure out why for yourself. You cannot even contact the person who wrote it.

Still working with all that different platforms challenging but very interesting.

Thomas Einwaller, 2009-11-05

Yesterday I stumble across phonegab.com. Sounds like an interesting approach to develop "once" for different phone platforms.

Has anybody already collected some experiences with it?

Peter Meuser, 2009-11-05

I guess you mean phonegap.com.

Volker Weber, 2009-11-05

Of course... ;-)

Peter Meuser, 2009-11-05

I have tried to do this very thing with X-pages, look at my website for an example of viewing and editing tasks, i have made some for CRM and other dbs as well. But when someone tries to work with one of these apps on a blackberry it doesn't work at all. I am told by IBM it is bad JS support on the Blackberry. Cant wait for full featured HTML5 compliant browsers on all devices. Would be great if the devices also supported google gears....

But i did see that RIM was hiring a webkit developer....So maybe things will change soon.

Mark Hughes, 2009-11-05

Does anybody know what happened to these plans?


Just hot air or is there anything to it?

Peter Meuser, 2009-11-05

Did they pay for the advertising? :-)

Peter Meuser, 2009-11-06

Who? :-)

Volker Weber, 2009-11-06

I've just read your article about mobile applications. I've been using a new time-tracking application for "Blackberry" called "timr" for 2 months and I am really thankful for this application. "timr" saves time and helps me to earn money because of providing an exact allocation base for my clients. There's already a mobile client for iPhone and Android available as you can see on their website @ www.timr.com

Peter Maier, 2009-12-07

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