Journler: Blog

Apple to Developers: Write Web Apps. — Is It Really That Bad?

Or: It’s the Content, Stupid.

Had a good conversation today with Chris Messina of Citizen Agency fame. Chris is one of the Agency’s co-founders and advises startups and other firms on their web presence. He is steeped in Web 2.0 goodness and is enthusiastic about the iPhone’s potential as a device which supports web standards. Our conversation brought into perspective my recent diatribes against the iPhone and has given me the chance to ask, is it really that bad?

Let’s take it by way of the WWDC’s OS X Graphics and Media State of the Union. I can’t go into details because of an NDA that was signed by my presence, but let me say that the session offered a convincing argument for the unification of the web, desktop and mobile experience, especially by way of “rich” — read media rich — content.

Since the desktop PC became a consumer product we’ve seen it increasingly decentralized. What traditionally belonged on the desktop is now appearing on other platforms. The transformation has given rise to a “device ecosystem.” Consumers work on their desktops, give presentations with their laptops, play on their portables, listen to their iPods, stream movies to their Apple TV and surf the internet on their mobiles. At the same time two other trends have developed. Rich content has become more prevalent, and individuals expect a single, unified experience.

The circumstances have led to a bit of a conundrum: how do you deliver the same experience when every year the experience becomes more complex and the devices which deliver that experience more varied? Take a movie for example. Alongside that movie are a website, a soundtrack, games for your desktop and portable, downloadable trailers and eventually the movie itself as a download. Heck, you might even throw in email stationary. Not to mention that presentation you put together on your desktop but can’t access from your laptop because of a bad USB stick, but which should be available from your homepage, usable on your phone and editable on your co-worker’s Vaio. What’s the solution?

Standards, and it is here that the iPhone may offer something truly revolutionary. It’s not an area I am well versed in, so I missed it the first time around when I said in my keynote post:

“Instead of announcing an SDK Jobs announced that developers would be able to write AJAX Web 2.0 applications that could be run directly in Safari on the iPhone. This was even billed as an advantage — developers wouldn’t need an SDK, how great is that? But the phone has a standards compliant browser. Of course it can run web apps based on dhtml, css and javascript. Nothing new here.”

Ok, nothing new because we knew the iPhone runs Safari and Safari is standards compliant. But that the iPhone is a phone with a standards compliant browser in the first place is huge! The sessions zeroed in on this with examples of how web pages render on the iPhone verses other web enabled devices. Correct me if I’m wrong but I believe Apple Inc. is the first company to fully support web standards on a mobile device so that a site’s content appears exactly how it appears on your desktop or laptop.

With that we reach the point of this article: the platform is becoming irrelevant. At the end of the day does it really matter what kind of computer or device you use as long as it enables you to do what you want and in the manner you expect? The western consumer is about to enter an age of ubiquitous computing. I love that word, ubiquitous. Your Mac better play nice with the PC at the office and they both better work with your printer and your phone, render web content uniformly and allow you to access your data from anywhere at anytime.

I’m sure you’ll forgive the developer if he or she is upset about this. When Steve Jobs takes advantage of his Keynote to flip 6000 Macintosh developers the bird, hand delivering instructions to start writing web apps, he is negating tens of thousands of years worth of career and experience. I’ve only been doing the Cocoa/Obj-C gig for a few years now, but there are developers out there who have been doing this for a lifetime. Asking them to consider a whole other programming language with its syntax, style, libraries and quirks is like telling a Manhattan taxi driver to do his job in LA starting eighteen days from now. You’re gonna hear a few choice words.

Chris is hopeful this is a step in the right direction and our conversation really opened my eyes. It’s going to be a lot of work for Mac developers to make this transition but it certainly looks like a necessary one if they want to be relevant in the approaching age of ubiquitous computing, platform irrelevancy and content supremacy.

3 Responses to “Apple to Developers: Write Web Apps. — Is It Really That Bad?”

  1. luxuryluke Says:


  2. Phil Says:


  3. KoFFiE Says:

    That the thing is standards compliant - and that you can make *web* applications which are platform independant is a good thing, but it does not make up for a missing SDK. Web applications will simply never replace all native desktop applications, since there are too many privacy issues involved. I can’t access bluetooth using javascript and ajax, so I can’t tell google maps where I am based on GPS coordinates I get from a bluetooth GPS device. I can’t store data on the iphone using javascript, I can’t access contact data, calendar data, … Some people say “you don’t know that, maybe they made a javascript interface for such things”. Now - then it wouldn’t be standards compliant anymore now would it? (and it would require an SDK)

    The problem is that these ‘open webstandards’ were made with some security and privacy issues in mind. You can’t access personal data stored on the device where it is viewed on - for very good reasons. Now what is a smartphone all about? Management of personal data I thought. This makes web-standards probably the ultimate most unsuitable technology to create applications for the iPhone.

    So in order to do anything with personal data, you need to sync it to a remote online server, and you need 24/7 network coverage. If you don’t have free wifi spots this is going to be a very expensive application to run… Putting all your data on a server on a public network also gives you a few other risks for free. Security/privacy issues? Simple example, I want to access my contacts from an application. How am I going to do that? All contacts have to be synced and I have to make a secure request to the server where they were synced too. Doesn’t that sound a bit complicated and risky?

    I for a moment thought of the possibility of the iPhone running a webserver with some basic services to access local data, but this would involve even bigger security risks, so I hope they did not do this.

    In the end, I hardly see any possibilities for usefull ajax applications at all. All the ones I have in mind need some kind of ‘device’ access - like GPS, local data storage or tcp/ip network communication. The network communication *could* be done in ajax, but only over HTTP using post/get requests - making it incompatible with any existing network protocol except for HTTP. I still have to see *THE* idea for an ajax application for iPhone, but I don’t believe there will be any groundbreaking applications for it.

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