Friday, June 10, 2011

The App Breakthrough: APPS vs Browsers & How You Will See The Internet 1

There is a struggle for control of how you will access the Internet.  The old and present standard is the browser, but a new challenger has arisen fueled by the explosive growth of mobile devices - the app.

In 2007, browsers dominated the world of Internet research.  They had undergone a rather long development from the earliest browsers like NetScape and Internet Explorer 1.0 for multiple browsers, each with strength and weaknesses.  These browsers were designed for a large computer screen.  They demanded a certain minimum processing power found only on computers of the time.  This is the worodl as it existed before the arrival of the first iPhone.
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Introduction of the Web App
When Apple changed the rules about phones in 2007, they included in this iPhone, among other innovations, a mini browser with most of the powerful features of their regular Safari browser for the Mac.  This browser allowed for all kinds of dramatic possibilities for this mobile device.  The suggestion that Steve Jobs had as to how to best use this little browser was with something called "web apps."  In his presentation of the first generation iPhone he stated,
The full Safari engine is inside of iPhone. And so, you can write amazing Web 2.0 and Ajax apps that look exactly and behave exactly like apps on the iPhone. And these apps can integrate perfectly with iPhone services. They can make a call, they can send an email, they can look up a location on Google Maps.
Shortly after that there was a flood of these web apps produced for the phone.  They are still around.  You can see a short list of them here on Apple's website.   At some point during the development of the iPhone, Apple decided that web apps were not the future, despite his early resistance to stand only regular apps.  Why did Jobs reduce the emphasis on web apps?  These days they are hardly mentioned.
People who are really serious about software should make their own hardware."
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The Difference Between An App And A Web App
The answer is that that web apps were a first stage transition to what Steve Jobs always considered to be the ultimate experience - what he called a rich client, that is to say an application native to the iPhone that would access the Internet when needed, but, that could continue to provide the same experience when disconnected from the Internet.  A good explanation is found in a discussion which I quote,
A web app is accessed via Safari and requires no install. You are just going to a website that has a special stylesheet for the iPhone. A native app runs code on the device and is installable through the app store. You have access to all the UI elements the iPhone uses and can do things like 3D which are impossible in Mobile Safari.
So even though the Internet may have provided the basic information, the rich client (the app inside the iPhone) added value to the information by presenting it in an ideal way suited to the iPhone's screen as well as access all the internal features of the iPhone.  In 2007 in an All Things Digital Conference, Jobs gave an example of such a use of a rich client,
I’ll give you a concrete example. I love Google Maps, use it on my computer, you know, in a browser. But when we were doing the iPhone, we thought, wouldn’t it be great to have maps on the iPhone? And so we called up Google and they’d done a few client apps in Java on some phones and they had an API that we worked with them a little on. And we ended up writing a client app for those APIs. They would provide the back-end service. And the app we were able to write, since we’re pretty reasonable at writing apps, blows away any Google Maps client. Just blows it away. Same set of data coming off the server, but the experience you have using it is unbelievable. It’s way better than the computer. And just in a completely different league than what they’d put on phones before.
When Apple came out with a Standard Development Kit (SDK) for the iPhone in 2008, developers could for the first time come out with rich client apps which could as Jobs put it, "...do more in a browser...to get a persistent state of things when you’re disconnected from a browser...so they can be pretty transparent, whether you’re connected or not."

This development of these stand alone apps, has led to a situation in which these apps are doing more and more things, and being used by people more and more to do what browsers were doing before.  We shall cover this is part 2 of our series.

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