7 Reasons Why Developers are Deserting iPhone Apps

iPhone applicationsiPhone applications have been the success story of the last year. Developers have churned out thousands of excellent — and dubious — applications for Apple’s popular mobile. Some companies have made a fortune selling their software for a few cents.

However, there is a growing trend for developers to move away from Apple’s proprietary platform and return to web technologies. A number of companies, including Twitter, Techmeme and Nextstop are producing mobile web applications that work well on the iPhone but are based on HTML5 in the Safari browser. For example, the jQuery iPhone reference uses jQTouch to simulate the iPhone interface and caches web files so it installs and acts like a regular application.

There are several benefits to this approach:

  1. There is no need to use a Mac or purchase the iPhone SDK.
  2. You can use any server technology or language — you’re not forced to learn Objective-C.
  3. Existing web applications can be adapted without a fundamental rewrite.
  4. There is no need to wait for Apple’s approval. Apple regularly refuses iPhone applications for arcane reasons.
  5. Applications and updates can be released instantly rather than waiting 3 weeks for approval and entry into the Apple store.
  6. The resulting web application is cross-platform and should work on a PC or another mobile.
  7. Since the iPhone user is already using a browser, it’s less of a jarring experience when launching web pages.

Mozilla is also claiming that Fennec, it’s mobile browser for Nokia, Windows and Android handsets, could mark the end of Apple’s dominance. The organization claims to have the fastest mobile JavaScript engine (don’t they all — although recent benchmarks support their assertions). Mozilla is convinced this will encourage developers to write code for the browser rather than multiple mobile platforms.

Jay Sullivan, Mozilla’s mobile vice president states:

As developers get more frustrated with quality assurance, the amount of handsets they have to buy, and whether their security updates will get past the iPhone approval process, I think they’ll move to the web.

Anyone who knows JavaScript and HTML can develop a great app without having to learn a specific mobile platform. In the interim period, apps will be very successful. Over time, the web will win because it always does.

I doubt iPhone apps are doomed. Many people are successfully monetizing applications through Apple’s store and micro-payments are rarely cost-effective for companies that go it alone. However, if you have alternative revenue streams, a bespoke mobile application may not be the most efficient solution. Apple’s stranglehold over the app market is unlikely to succeed in the long term.

Do you develop iPhone applications? Are you considering web-based alternatives?

Free book: Jump Start HTML5 Basics

Grab a free copy of one our latest ebooks! Packed with hints and tips on HTML5's most powerful new features.

  • http://www.bluesulphur.com squig

    Web apps might be easier to develop (and those promoting web technologies would like us all to use them) but that’s not the only factor in the equation.

    People are used to paying up to £3.50 for a ringtone, wallpaper or song on their phone, so the “decision” to buy a 50p app from the AppStore is hardly a decision at all, especially if they already have credit in their iTunes account.

    It’s more of a decision if they have to get out their credit card.
    It’s more of a decision if they have to pay more than a couple of pounds.
    It’s more of a decision if it’s a “web app” because “stuff on the web is usually free, right? I mean, that demo video looks great, but I wonder if anyone else is doing the same thing for free?”

    Web apps have the potential to be a (slightly) harder sale.

    Then, once someone’s decided to pay, you’ve got to collect the money.

    In order to get paid every time someone buys your iPhone app through the AppStore, all you have to do is … get accepted into the AppStore.

    In order to get paid every time someone buys / uses your web app you need a whole purchasing / subscription management back-end to your site. Shopping carts are 2 a penny and many are very simple to set up, but subscription management engines … ? Maybe there are loads of them around and I’ve just not looked hard enough. If anyone knows of any then please drop me a line.

  • SBUK

    “However, there is a growing trend for developers to move away from Apple’s proprietary platform…” Based on what? The iPhone was always intended to be a web based device. Do you not recall the furore over the fact that the original iPhone (2G) didn’t include the facility for 3rd party apps?

  • Andrew

    So how will developers deserting the App Store earn revenue from their apps?

  • LFA

    I would never apply myself to learning a new platform when there already is one, the web, that’s working fine.

    I’m with Jay Sullivan:

    Over time, the web will win because it always does.

    //Fredrik

  • Robert

    #8 No revenue sharing required.

  • rm0208

    I have heard the next iteration of the iPhone OS would have true multitasking apps anyway, but by working more toward a web based app experience, it sounds like this could essentially mimic multitasking on older iPhones since each web based app would be able to run in a new browser.

  • Chris

    My organization does produce applications for the iPhone but we are only producing web-based applications. The investment in native-application development far exceeded the return on the objectives of our mobile application. Our web-based approach is successful for many of the reasons stated in this article’s list. And it also was a great way for developers to get some real-world practice and exposure to HTML5.

  • Duane-Nason

    interesting. maybe we’ll see even MORE web apps or sites on the iphone. and it just might give web developers the chance to see something cool they made show up on an iphone.

  • Denis Smirnov

    Author makes valid points, but he doesn’t mention the pros of developing for iPhone

    Here are some points for native iPhone development:
    – App state retention,
    – Offline capabilities
    – Access to 3D graphics
    – Access to GPS, Accelerometer, and Compas
    – A solid SDK
    – Native look
    – PROFIT! PROFIT! PROFIT!
    – iTunes, easy to find your app

    there’s more..

    Approval time is down from 3 weeks to 12 hours

  • EastCoast

    Whether you think it’s worthwhile still developing iphone apps may come down to who you are developing them for – I think that the store has reached sufficient saturation that the ‘gold rush’ days of releasing any old app without any other marketing and making a mint from it are gone.

    However demand for them within business is still strong, and iphone development skills still command a good rate and are less of a commodity that many other areas of development.

    If you take into account that accessibility to iphone development is higher than it has ever been through frameworks like phonegap/appcelerator/corona/rhomobile which can help utilise existing web development skills, and with Apple’s new iPad providing another avenue for sales, then it could still be considered as worth pursuing.

  • W2ttsy

    considering apple has sold 3 billion apps on their store since its inception 18 months ago, i doubt they are worried about developers “deserting” their platform.
    As Denis mentioned, there are things the iPhone apps can do natively, that you just cant do in a web app, access to the hardware, the core API libraries and other app repositories…
    I guess if the scope of your app is to download content remotely and use jQuery, then a web app is for you, but anything more and apps are the way to go. Now with the inception of iPad, apps will be even more crazy thanks to a faster CPU, bigger screen and new OS features.

    Of course having a web front end for when you don’t have the iPhone is always a good idea. I have released several apps that access a web server to persist data and then allow users to log in from a web site to access the same data…

  • seawind

    i like iphone very much, but the apps is not free

  • http://www.optimalworks.net/ Craig Buckler

    There are some bespoke iPhone apps which make sense. Games are a prime example, although accelerometer handlers are starting to appear in browsers. There’s no reason why a JavaScript or Flash-based game couldn’t be produced. Obviously, complex games are better written for the target OS – much like you would for PCs or consoles.

    Profit is a factor, but for every iPhone app making a fortune, there are many others making little or nothing. Producing a popular application which sells well is not easy.

    As mentioned in the article, revenue from app distribution is not necessarily important to all business models. Amazon produce a free app and their profit comes from selling products via mobile devices. The company currently offers versions for the iPhone, Symbian, and Android, but they could replace every one with a single web application.

  • W2ttsy

    I use Amazon’s iPhone app heaps when i’m in bookshops to compare prices and i dont think it would be nearly as easy to use if i had to go through safari to do so, not to mention that most sites wouldnt function efficiently in a mobile browser without a specialised view anyway, so in terms of workload, it will probably work out about even if you have to build a custom web view (with JS trickery for UI look and feel) or build an iPhone App that has native UI components. Both are most likely to be hooked to the same data store, so the trade off is how fast you can code either front end.

    The iPad is a completely different story however, as the larger screen with a res of 1024×768 (thank god we are still making sites for 1024) will allow regular versions of many popular sites to be viewable without compromise. Whether or not the processor can handle the heavy JS of sites like Facebook is yet to be seen. I think iPad apps as replacement to a website (especially if it costs money) will be very short in supply, as there is no need for specialised controls or views. Of course, if you web app could make use of the accelerometer or the GPS, then perhaps dedicated iPad apps are the way to go.

  • http://www.optimalworks.net/ Craig Buckler

    @W2ttsy
    It’s fairly easy to replicate the iPhone UI in a web page. Whether you want to keep that interface for other devices is another matter.

    However, creating 3 or 4 HTML/CSS/JS interfaces to the same PHP/.NET/whatever backend would probably be quicker and simpler than writing the same number of bespoke mobile applications.

  • W2ttsy

    while it may be easy to “replicate” the UIs, you are still replicating them. You can natively drag and drop UI components in interface builder and then bind them to actions in your application so thats one less piece of work. plus you get the benefit of things like shake to reload (or in my case, shake to randomise), accelerometer motion and pinch and rotate… things you cant get through the web interfaces…

    tomaytoes, tomartoes

  • http://www.chrisbward.com chris ward

    EVEN IF the next-gen iPhone has multitasking – you still won’t have O/S integration like on Android.

    Inherently, it will never be as adaptable. A second-rate product, produced for the masses.

    It looks cool though, right?

  • amdowney

    I’m proud not to be on the Apple bandwagon, I love my HTC Hero (Google Android OS) – that is open source and should steal the crown from Apple over the coming years!

  • http://www.facebook.com/samCool2020 Abdul Samad

    I read your blog and it was very interesting but due you know what is my point of view i have a lot creative work, Creativity like (J Query). Basically j Query is one of the best achievement for Client Side we can easily animate, fade-In, fade-out, show, hide Div and any kind of HTML tag those they are support with ID but these are top five web technologies are totally depend on website . Website basically is easiest way for communication, searching, chatting, mailing, gaming and etc.

  • http://www.facebook.com/samCool2020 Abdul Samad

    I read your blog and it was very interesting but due you know what is my point of view i have a lot creative work, Creativity like (J Query). Basically j Query is one of the best achievement for Client Side we can easily animate, fade-In, fade-out, show, hide Div and any kind of HTML tag those they are support with ID but these are top five web technologies are totally depend on website . Website basically is easiest way for communication, searching, chatting, mailing, gaming and etc.