Despite the continued success of Apples’ App Store and similar online application stores, publishers are beginning to invest and deliver mobile applications using technologies that many believe may signal the demise of the traditional native app. Is it time to take shelter from an impending mobile app-ocalypse?
With the current popularity of the App Store (over 25 billion downloads) it might not seem like it. However the phenomenal success of the native app market presents a number of problems for both users and publishers alike.
The App Store is noisy
There are now over 500,000 apps available on the App Store meaning that finding the latest and greatest is difficult. This can lead to a unhealthy reliance on curated lists and editorially featured content as a means to reliably discover new apps.
As a publisher, this increases the risk that your beautifully created app can sink without trace, no matter how great it really is. This increased competition in the market place also brings out the more nefarious means of grabbing attention. Those user reviews and 5-star ratings are worth real money!
Mobile home screens are overcrowded
Once you’ve found and downloaded the app you want, it has to compete with all of the other apps you’ve downloaded for prime real estate on your device’s home screen. The desktop paradigm that most devices have adopted just doesn’t scale to hundreds of apps. The cost of having to organise, rearrange, update and de-clutter your home screen becomes significant compared to the individual value offered by many of the apps.
Developing for multiple platforms is expensive
Which platforms should you launch your app on? How many versions built on different platforms can your development teams support? Should you try and develop features in parallel across platforms or should you let your feature set diverge and add new features to one platform first? All difficult decisions. It’s pretty clear why there is an imperative to develop with cross-platform mobile frameworks.
Is HTML5 the answer?
No, not in isolation. HTML5 is often misunderstood. It provides an open standards way of marking up data for display as user interfaces, content and rich media. So the real question is will web apps using HTML5 become the dominant way of delivering mobile functionality? The answer as always lies in the context. If you need to interact with the device hardware then a native app is still the best way to achieve this. If you need to present content, text, images and media then HTML5 and a web app allows you to do this in a cost effective and time-tested way.
Native apps won’t disappear but clearly there is convergence between the experiences native apps can deliver and those available via a browser.
Perhaps though it’s the app delivery mechanism that will change most of all. Rather than investing time up-front collecting apps from a store (with a vastly improved app discovery mechanism), perhaps apps will be downloaded only if and when you need them. This is the exact model suggested by ex-Apple and Google mobile UX guru Scott Jenson who suggests that future apps will be delivered ‘just-in-time’, installing only the features you need there and then. The underlying technology for such delivery is already available. It’s the web!
Here for the long run
Ultimately, reports on the death of native mobile apps have been greatly exaggerated, but HTML5 shows every sign of becoming the dominant cross-platform technology for serving rich interfaces, media and content.
Every future device of note will have a standards compliant browser, meaning that every device will be capable of consuming content and services delivered in HTML. As a publisher or developer it would be foolish to ignore this. As a user, hopefully you won’t even notice the difference…..