The Web Can Save Mobile Apps

As someone who mainly goes to technology conferences focused on traditional software and hardware, I found the recent CTIA show was a good reminder of how different the mobile world is from the PC and server world, especially when it comes to applications. For example, say I go to a

Jim RapozaAs someone who mainly goes to technology conferences focused on traditional software and hardware, I found the recent CTIA show was a good reminder of how different the mobile world is from the PC and server world, especially when it comes to applications. For example, say I go to a traditional PC software show, such as LinuxWorld or Macworld. At the conference I meet with some application vendors. They show me their cool new product and then they say, "Try it out," handing me a disk or USB drive or giving me a URL from which I can download their app. The whole time I have full confidence that their application will run on my systems and software. Now compare this with some of the meetings I had with mobile application vendors at CTIA. At the show, I met with some vendors who had some very interesting applications. But if I wanted to try them out myself I was out of luck. Because instead of just saying, "Here you go, it runs on Linux or Mac OSX, have fun testing it," the mobile application vendor says, "Well, to start off, our application will only be available on these two carriers, and it will only be offered on new phones and the only way to get it from these initial carriers will be within a special business application package that they are putting together." So instead of being able to test or use the vendor's application, I, and most potential users and customers of the application, find the odds are that we will never be able to use that specific application. This scenario is common across many mobile application vendors and is one of the many reasons why the mobile application market is nowhere near as vibrant as traditional software markets. Of course, there are other factors that make it difficult to succeed as a mobile applications vendor, including the fact that there is no dominant mobile operating system, meaning vendors have to develop and test for multiple systems. But by far the biggest factor slowing down mobile application growth is that mobile application vendors live and die at the whims (and the growing fees) of major carriers such as AT&T and Verizon. However, there is a way that application vendors can reach a wide number of potential customers and not have to be at the mercy of the carriers. In fact, vendors can bypass the carriers altogether. I am talking about offering a mobile application as a Web application instead of as a native mobile operating system application. Think about it. Fast Web access has quickly become a must-have feature for modern phones. It's become increasingly difficult to find phones or plans that don't have it. And, spurred on by the excellent browser on the iPhone, most newer phones are now coming with very good Web browsers (and for other phones, users can download good mobile browsers such as Opera). With good browsers and good Web access, it is now possible to deliver rich and effective Web applications to mobile users. And since all you need to do this is a Web site, there is no need to go through the carriers, as your customers will come directly to you. And as mobile browsers adopt more features of rich Internet applications, such as offline access, this will become an even more attractive option. So, just as many traditional applications are moving to the Web, so too will mobile applications. Which means that when you see a mobile application that you want to try, you actually might be able to.