Tuesday, June 12, 2007

iPhone: a new platform for web applications that could revive the NC concept

Well, anyone hoping for a real SDK for the iPhone must be disappointed as hell. But then really, how reasonable was it to expect Apple to not just finish the iPhone in time (which we know was a close call), but also create a complete set of developer tools for it, including user interface guidelines and all? I think those who are disappointed kind of deserve to be.

So Steve tossed a bone to developers. His suggestion that they should develop web apps for the iPhone will certainly infuriate a lot of them, and it does seem a bit audacious to me as well. However, I'm sure that once Apple gets around to creating it, a real SDK will be there for all aspiring iPhone developers. But, seeing how carefully Apple wants to control both the stability and the public image of the iPhone, that should take a while. I agree with just about everything that Daniel Eran says on the subject.

However, I also think Steve Jobs is really on to something here. I don't doubt for a second that there will be hundreds, maybe thousands of websites or web applications written specifically for the iPhone. Not just because whenever Jobs speaks, people will start to listen, and stuff will be happening (though the Jobsian charisma is definitely part of it), but also because the iPhone and its Safari web browser will very likely create a new business: that of handheld web applications.

I don't think web applications will replace desktop apps any time soon, though they will certainly continue to complement them. We all know how networks, especially something as slow as EDGE can limit the usefulness of a web application.

However, I think a web app may make a lot more sense on a less powerful handheld device such as the iPhone than on a full-featured desktop or notebook. Here's why:
  1. The iPhone has limited resources, while a web app usually lives on a powerful and scalable server. Therefore the remote app can perform operations faster than a local iPhone application could.
  2. The user interface of a web application is closer to that of an iPhone app than it is to a desktop application. Due to their greatly simplified user interfaces, iPhone apps have fewer advantages over web applications than desktop apps do, so web applications will look less out of place on the device.
Case in point: I've always been struggling with the mail clients on my smartphones. They were slow to connect to the mail server, check for new messages, download them all, make decisions about attachments, and so on. There was also a limit on the number and size of messages that my phones could store. 

So I switched to webmail. Google Mail has an okay webmail page for mobile devices, and for my other accounts, I installed IlohaMail on one of my web servers. This open-source PHP script is actually a mail client that lets you access any POP or IMAP mail sever on the internet, much like Apple's Mail App, except that Iloha runs on a server, and you interact with it via a simple web interface. So my web server does the heavy lifting (checking and fetching and rendering mail), all my smartphone does is display it as a web page. I don't have to force my poor little phone to perform loads of network operations, or to store megabytes and megabytes of mails or attachments in its limited memory. It all happens on my web server, and all my phone does is let me interact with all that data. Perfect!

Of course, handling mail should cause no problems for the iPhone. But more complicated tasks might. Heck, even an image editing solution such as Snipshot could probably be rewritten for the iPhone, and fill an important void – at least for the time being, i.e. before Apple opens up development for real, or supplies a native iPhone app that does all of this and more.

Thin clients or network computers never really took off. Well, the iPhone could become one that does – without really trying that hard. There has never been a mass-market handheld device running a full-featured web browser like the iPhone. If this isn't the time for the Great Handheld-Targeted Web Application Revolution, I don't know what is.

1 comment:

foxinfosoft said...

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Thank you
iPhone application development