iPhone 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:
- There is no need to use a Mac or purchase the iPhone SDK.
- You can use any server technology or language — you’re not forced to learn Objective-C.
- Existing web applications can be adapted without a fundamental rewrite.
- There is no need to wait for Apple’s approval. Apple regularly refuses iPhone applications for arcane reasons.
- Applications and updates can be released instantly rather than waiting 3 weeks for approval and entry into the Apple store.
- The resulting web application is cross-platform and should work on a PC or another mobile.
- Since the iPhone user is already using a browser, it’s less of a jarring experience when launching web pages.
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.
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?
Craig is a freelance UK web consultant who built his first page for IE2.0 in 1995. Since that time he's been advocating standards, accessibility, and best-practice HTML5 techniques. He's created enterprise specifications, websites and online applications for companies and organisations including the UK Parliament, the European Parliament, the Department of Energy & Climate Change, Microsoft, and more. He's written more than 1,000 articles for SitePoint and you can find him @craigbuckler.