The Future Of Software: Web-powered iOS Style Apps

From the archive – first published 23/07/2013

Apps as popularised by the iPhone are great and I’m sure are here to stay. At least for the medium term.

The web is great too though, and I think it’s obvious to say it is here to stay. For the long term.

“as good as apps are, it’s a backward step for software“

At the moment, apps – and I mean apps like we’ve come to know them on mobile devices – are device-specific and require developers to create a separate app for each platform. The problem is, as good as apps are, it’s a backward step for software and once again we’ve got all the support and updating problems of desktop programs.

When we (Terrabase) used to make mainly desktop software we were more than familiar with the inherent problems. We’d create software for Windows which wouldn’t work on a Mac or anywhere else. Unique problems could arise purely because of idiosyncrasies of a specific piece of hardware. Updates had to impact upon the user’s experience and couldn’t be guaranteed. With modern phone apps you’ve potentially got all those problems again, though these days updates etc. are slightly slicker.

The web solved all this. We can develop using whatever technology or infrastructure we liked. As devices changed, users could still access our software and, sometimes excepting Internet Explorer, we knew it would work. Updates could be applied in one place and tested in nearly every situation. Users could access their software from anywhere. So a lot ofdifficulties simply evaporated.

“the experience is very much like using a native app”

The trouble with the web is it hasn’t had the simple, delightful usability of an app. However, with modern web development techniques using HTML5 and AJAX etc. this is now possible. Single page web-apps are web software where all activity takes place as HTML5 or AJAX on a single web-page and interactions happen instantaneously so the experience is very much like using a native app.

“much easier to support, update and manage and is a delight to use.”

For example using the single-page app philosophy there’s no reason why a web-app as dynamic and fast as the excellent eBay iOS app could not be created to run in a browser and designed with touch in mind. However, by creating it in a browser we’ve by-passed all the problems of native software. Also, by doing this you could open your eBay app on your iPad, then go to your Android phone and carry on using the same app, then get to work and carry on with exactly the same app and experience on your Mac or Windows machine. As developers we’ve only created the app once by creating it for the web which means we’ve saved the client money, increased their productivity and made software which is much easier to support, update and manage and is a delight to use. It also doesn’t need to go through the iOS app store.

We’re currently creating web-powered iOS-style apps for some high-profile organisations. These apps should be available to demonstrate in the next 6 months. Watch this space.

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