Friday Jan 08, 2010

Web Apps vs Native Apps: Will we ever fully switch?

When Apple introduced the iPhone, the story was that we didn't need native apps, instead the Web was the application environment and apps should just be written to run in a browser (Mobile Safari).  This didn't last too long as Apple succumbed and the App Store was born and by all accounts, other than developers who can't get their apps approved, it has been a wild success.  I have to wonder though if Steve intentionally made the whole process somewhat onerous to try to encourage folks to still write to the Web as a better and preferred way to get apps to the device.

The success of Apple's App Store has led to other "app stores" or "marketplaces" from mobile phone providers to carriers to the Java Store and more.  So it isn't terribly surprising to see Intel launch a netbook app store, although I have to wonder if the motivation is just to keep up with the Jetsons or if this is the right model for netbooks.  After all, isn't the point of the netbook to leverage Web applications?  If so, is having a store for native apps really needed or desired?  It would seem it is just giving users a crutch to avoid making the transition to the world of applications on the Web.

So why is this?  It is a combination of several things including more developers being comfortable and adept at creating native apps, HTML5 not being ready yet (an excuse for the original iPhone, less of one now), and users being familiar with native apps or fearing not having access if they are out of range of the network so thinking they have to have them.

But there are significant advantages to a world of Web apps.

For developers, while it may never truly be write a single Web app and use it from any device, there is a whole lot more reuse and leverage from creating apps for the Web rather than creating N native variations.  Particularly when platforms like the iPhone refuse to support Java or insist on requiring development in Objective C.  Being able to have an addressable market of multiple mobile and desktop platforms is a huge advantage over targeting one specific platform.

For users, using Web apps allow access to the same app and data from any device without having to perform complex and error prone synchronizations.  Whether you need to access your e-mail, calendar, documents, games, whatever, being able to do so from multiple devices should be a huge benefit if users can just get over the notion that they don't have the app in their possession on their device.

So when will the transition occur?  It will happen first with mobile and lighter weight "netbook" type of devices.  These are (or should be) designed for the Web and will have less storage and general horsepower to run native apps and so are well suited to it.  It perhaps will take something like Chrome OS to do it as other Windows, Linux, or OS X based devices will always have at their core an OS built for native apps.  Chrome OS will change this as far as we can tell.

In the mean time, go ahead and make it a point to ask "could this be a Web app" when creating that next application.  You may be surprised what is possible and how many more devices and users you can reach. 

Monday Nov 23, 2009

links for 2009-11-23: Steve Jobs hates the App Store; ChromeOS

Monday Oct 12, 2009

iPhone Voice Memo App Broken

One of the cool features of the iPhone OS 3.0 was the built-in Voice Memo app.  No longer would I need to deal with a separate app and having to transfer the files around awkwardly as they just sync with iTunes nicely.  WooHoo!

Well, it was a woohoo for only a bit, as I discovered this weekend that the Voice Memo app seems to stop recording around 25-30 minutes now.  A bit annoying as this caused me to miss about 10 minutes of what I was recording as I didn't notice it right away.

"Why might this be the case?" I asked.  A bit of Googling revealed this thread on Apple's discussion forum where the consensus is that OS 3.1 broke this and introduced somewhere around a 74.3 MB file size limit.  Depending on what you are recording this causes it to stop somewhere between 25 and 35 minutes it would appear.  Worse, reports are that when it stops you can't start recording again for a minute or so.

So, what was a cool app that solved a real use case is now useless for anything that might go over 20 minutes.  Back to using 3rd party apps as it doesn't appear Apple has even acknowledged this issue let alone said when it might be fixed.  Has anyone else ran into the problem or found a solution other than a 3rd party app? 

Wednesday Sep 30, 2009

links for 2009-10-1: iPhone apps stealing your phone number; eBay drops GM; LA City Hall e-mail; Snow Leopard after 30 days

Friday Sep 25, 2009

iPhone MMS is here ... I think

AT&T released today the long awaiting carrier settings that enables MMS on the iPhone.  This is great, and woefully late given that every other phone has supported MMS for a long time, so I thought I'd give it a try.

Getting MMS enabled involved checking for updates in iTunes and then syncing my phone.  Once done, you have to reboot.  Upon rebooting running the MMS app provides for attaching a picture or when using the Photo app you can now compose an MMS from there.  Great!  So how well does it work?

Alas, I tried sending an MMS to my boss and he received nothing.  I sent again, and still nothing.  So I sent an SMS and that got through fine.  So something isn't working with MMS.  Now, he has not applied the update on his iPhone yet so perhaps that is the issue.  But in the past when an iPhone was sent an MMS at least an SMS was delivered with a convoluted link to a web-site where you could enter a password and view the media, so I'd think it would have still done that, but no.

What are others experiencing?

I'll be able to update another iPhone and try between updated phones shortly and will report back then.

Update: Original try was to a 3G running 3.0.1.  Subsequently tried to one running 3.1 but without the carrier settings and it too failed.  Updated that one with the carrier settings and now it works.  So it appears the MMS hack of the past does not work now if the MMS is sent from another iPhone. 

Thursday Sep 24, 2009

links for 2009-9-24 part 2: Buy coffee with your iPhone; Layer 7 AMI; Microsoft WebsiteSpark; Google disruption; AT&T iPhone MMS

Tuesday Sep 22, 2009

Google Sync now supports Mail on the iPhone

I became a Google Sync user awhile ago when they released support for over the air calendar syncing from the iPhone.  It has worked well and I've had no issues with it.  At the same time, and actually before using Google Sync, I have been using the built-in Mail app on the iPhone to access my Gmail account which treats it like an IMAP server and this too has worked well.  As Google Sync didn't support mail, this meant configuring two accounts, one for calendar and one for mail, but you do that once and then you are all set.

I was interested then when Google announced today that Google Sync was adding mail support, and especially push mail support for Gmail.  Now, I have to be honest that I'm perfectly happy with my current setup and in fact am leery of adding anything with push as it is likely to impact battery life and we all know that under heavy use the battery on an iPhone is not its strongest point.  And I'm not really losing anything without push as I get enough e-mail that my phone would be going "ding" all the time and because I get enough mail, I don't really need a notification to know I have new messages so I just go run the app and let it download the messages then and I'm set.  The few seconds spent downloading is well worth not taxing the battery.  But I decided to give it a shot anyway as I can always turn push off and have the optimization of a single account to configure and manage.

So I followed the instructions, deleting my existing Gmail account then going to the settings for the Google Sync account and turning on mail syncing.  Worked great, that is until I went to try to look at my mail.  I immediately get a message saying unable to connect to the server and no messages are listed.  I try again a few times and same result.  After waiting a bit and trying again, it finally works and I can see the messages just like I could previously.  So what, I had that before and while I now have a single account to manage, lets see if push really works as that would be the perk of having this.

I make sure push is turned on, get back to the iPhone's Home screen and send myself an e-mail from another account.  I stare closely at the Mail app to see the unread message count go up and listen for the ding, but nothing.  I wait 30 seconds and nothing.  A minute and nothing.  In the meantime in the web interface on my laptop I saw the message arrive about 5 seconds after sending.  "What's up?" I ask.  I again run the Mail app and get the connection error again.  So I give up for the time being.

An hour or two later I gave it another shot and this time there is a friendly "ding" and the message count jumps up, ... but by 3?  I look at the web interface and only my test message arrived so that doesn't make sense.  So I run the Mail app to see what the three messages are.  To my surprise when I go to my Inbox the Mail app doesn't show me any new messages and proceeds to try to connect to download them.  Huh?  I thought I had push?

I suspect that the failure to connects and perhaps other issues are caused by Google's servers being overloaded, so I may try again later.  But to test the theory out I turn mail off on the Google Sync account and recreate my old Gmail account.  When I use it, the Mail app connects quickly and downloads 200 messages in seconds.  Hmmm, so either it isn't the servers, or the more likely explanation is that the "Exchange" servers supporting the push and syncing are overloaded but the standard servers for serving up POP and IMAP are working just fine.

For me, I'll just stick with my 2 accounts and no push for now.  I may try the push again later when Google figures things out.

But what is your experience?  Have you successfully gotten push working from Gmail on the iPhone?  Post your comments!

Thursday Sep 10, 2009

links for 2009-9-10: iPhone and Exchange; Google Voice features; EU Protectionism?

Friday Sep 04, 2009

links for 2009-9-4: iPhone MMS; Free Wi-Fi for fire; Brits headed to cloud?

  • An Update on iPhone MMS for our Mobility Customers - It's about time.  Not that I've ever been a big MMS user, but the lack of support was a glaring omission.  This is the key quote from the announcement: "The unique capabilities and high usage of the iPhone’s multimedia capabilities required us to work on our network MMS architecture to carry the expected record volumes of MMS traffic and ensure an excellent experience from Day One."  i.e. they couldn't handle the expected MMS volume.
  • Media Advisory: AT&T and Starbucks Offer Relief During Los Angeles Fires - Good move by both.  Link from story above, but is oddly a bit.ly URL rather than the real one.  Wonder why.
  • British small biz falls out of love with Microsoft, heads to the Clouds - "In their poll of 1,400 Microsoft customers, all small businesses in the UK, they found that 13% of them intend to switch to Google Apps within 12 months while 22% are “undecided”. In other words a healthy number are either switching or probably poised to switch."  And "However, despite many remaining undecided about switching to Google Apps specifically, 62% would “prefer” or “strongly prefer” to have their business applications work through a browser, while the rest have no preference or plan to stick to desktop apps."

Tuesday Sep 01, 2009

links for 2009-9-1: Snow Leopard Review; iPhone ad; iPhone and Business; Sony OEMs Chrome; Browser Market Share

Friday Aug 28, 2009

links for 2009-8-28: Flight Delay Predictions; Store wind power as compressed air; WPA cracked; iPhone App Store trevails

  • FlightCaster - AWS-Powered Flight Delay Prediction - Cool idea, I'll give it a shot on my next flight. Blurb in story about it running on AWS and being built on a budget less than $1M. I'm not sure I'd call less than 60 minutes only "slightly delayed" though! Also interesting the web-site is free, iPhone app is $4.99, but then BlackBerry app is $9.99.
  • PG&E to compress air to store wind power - Sounds more efficient for handling bursts than the other alternatives.
  • Researchers crack WPA Wi-Fi encryption in 60 seconds - All the more reason to use WPA2.
  • Not wanting to expose NSFW links, 1 in 4 Firefox 2 users avoid upgrading to FF3 - This is hilarious.  Folks, if you don't want a trail, don't visit the site!  But the new feature is nice.
  • Dear Apple: Where’s Facebook 3.0? - If getting Facebook 3.0 out sooner will result in selling more iPhones and iPod Touches, Apple cares.  If not, they don't care about how quickly or even if apps get approved.  There are over 50,000 apps now and that is what they market.  And there is an existing Facebook app there already.  What difference does it make to the general population and thus their market, the consumer, if a few don't make it or this new Facebook app takes a little while?  Have we not learned that yet?  Further, if Apple were to give preferential treatment to approving this app quicker, that would only serve to set precedent that if you announce submission to the world you get better treatment.  I wouldn't be surprised if they actually drag their feet on this one to set an example.

Monday Aug 24, 2009

links for 2009-8-24: Apple responds on Google Voice; Amazon lower EC2 fees

Thursday Aug 13, 2009

links for 2009-8-13: iPhone check deposit; Cheap is Expensive?

  • Hands on with USAA's iPhone check deposits - Great idea for any bank, particularly those that don't have physical branches.  It doesn't sound like it is that bullet proof yet though if one has to carefully write the check.
  • Why 'Cheap' May Really Be Expensive - “The economics of Cheap cramps innovation, contributes to the decline of once flourishing industries, and threatens our proud heritage of craftsmanship.”

Wednesday Aug 12, 2009

links for 2009-8-12: Apple a Monopoly?;Apple's Magic; VMware and SpringSource; MySQL.com

  • The Case Against Apple (AAPL) - Interesting read, but some of the arguments are flawed.  Unlike Microsoft with Windows, Apple does not have a monopoly and in general consumers have choice and can buy others phones, computers, and software.  The one place they may be in hot water is around the practices of App Store approval, particularly the retroactive removal and inconsistent logic in approving one app but not another.
  • The Science Behind Apple's Magic - A very good read, but this is excellent advice for lots of things: "Stop, step back from your product, and take a closer look. Without worrying about how much work you’ve already put into it, is it really as good as it could be?"
  • How we fixed the MySQL.com Power Outage -Plans to rehost and have a redundant backup got accelerated.
  • VMware plus SpringSource, more hype than substance, today - A good if not slightly biased (IBMer) analysis.

Sunday Jul 26, 2009

Additional Thoughts on Google Latitude for iPhone and Apple vs Google, Apple vs Palm?

I wrote up some initial thoughts on Google Latitude for the iPhone a few days ago and this morning I come across this ZDNet blog entry on the struggle between Apple and Google on native vs browser based apps.  While a part of me admires Apple for going to extreme lengths to ensure their devices have a good user experience, in this case their desire to control the device is, IMHO, not providing the best experience.  As noted in my blog there are a few quirks and serious limitations that I think wouldn't be there if it was a native app or otherwise restricted by Apple's review process.

That said, Apple does control the device and Latitude not being available for the iPhone was a glaring gap so Google no doubt had to accept the limitations.  And clearly Apple is being successful with the iPhone, but at what point will Apple have to relinquish some control or risk losing market share to other devices running Android?  The iPhone has a head start but you can be sure that Android will improve and the openness of the platform will be an advantage that will benefit it.

And related, but in the Apple vs Palm front, as you are probably aware, one of the Palm Pre's touted features was being able to sync with iTunes.  Apple used their control of the platform to break that sync'ing with an iTunes update, but Palm has countered with an OS update that makes the sync'ing work again.  When will this cycle end?  Probably not any time soon.

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