The Mobile Web: Dead or On Hiatus?

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Remember the Wireless Application Protocol (WAP)? Before smartphones, it seemed as though everyone was building mobile versions of their websites in WAP form. This even happened again for a short while with smartphones until app stores arrived.

Now it seems more attention is being paid to making apps than making versions of websites optimized for smartphones screens.

Given the app craze and the amount of money being made from apps, it seems logical that this shift has been happening. To the point of my column from a few weeks ago, apps are at the forefront of the rebirth of the software industry — which is a good thing.

(MORE: How the Software Industry Is Being Reborn)

On the horizon, however, I see a world where both native apps and web apps will coexist. Developers leading this charge will be the ones who are making native apps and HTML5 web apps at the same time during the software development process.

The Mobile Web Reborn

HTML5 is one of the more interesting developments related to mobile software at the moment. As a spec, it hasn’t been fully standardized, but that’s not stopping a large number of software developers from embracing and developing the next version of the Internet.

Web developers have a lot of options as they look to write mobile software. What’s interesting to me is that many of them are taking a hybrid approach to software development. That means they are writing the application in HTML5 + Javascript but wrapping all that code in a layer that lets it be installed as a native application from an app store as well.

You don’t have to look too far to find good examples of this approach. Both Facebook and Twitter have deployed this model. You can install Facebook or Twitter as an app from most app stores or direct the web browser on your smartphone to either company’s website and have a nearly identical experience. This hybrid approach is one that most major software developers I am talking to are using to make their mobile apps.

(LIST: 50 Best iPhone Apps 2012)

LinkedIn recently took the same approach with their latest iPad app. The company has completely reimagined the LinkedIn experience for the iPad. However, by taking this hybrid approach to software development, the LinkedIn tablet experience will also be available on things like Android tablets and upcoming Windows 8 tablets. By taking this approach, LinkedIn was able to cater to their iPad customer base with a quality and polished tablet experience, and they were also able to leverage that work on the native application to make a similar experience available via the web browser for any tablet or other mobile device.

With all of this in mind, I am expecting there to be far more web-based mobile applications over the next 12 months than people think. These are the interesting kinds of software innovations that I believe will make not only the future of web design, but also application software design, exciting for the years to come.

Will the Software of the Future Be Installed or Accessed?

All of these observations beg an interesting question — a question I called out in a column I wrote last year outlining why I believe Chrome is more important to Google than Android in the long run. The possibilities with HTML5 + Javascript and browser-based software in general are enormous. If we think about many of the visions of industry leaders like Larry Ellison and others that are based around the concept of network computing–where a screen is just a dumb terminal and the intelligence is in the network–then we can truly imagine this future coming to fruition thanks to web-based software.

(MORE: Why Chrome OS Is More Important to Google’s Future than Android)

Throughout most of the history of computing, software users have taken a package of code and “installed” that software on their computers. However, in this future of web-based applications we won’t install software; we will simply access it through our web browsers. Not only is the software infrastructure starting to take the shape of this reality, but so is the microprocessing technology in many mainstream smart devices. Many smartphones and tablets today have the same amount of processing power as notebooks and desktops from five years ago.

The software revolution I spoke of a few weeks ago is just the tip of the iceberg. I have a hard time believing that the software experiences we have today will look anything like the software experiences we will be having in five years. And I believe that many of the software experiences of tomorrow will take place within our web browsers.

Ben Bajarin is the director of consumer technology analysis and research at Creative Strategies Inc., a technology industry analysis and market intelligence firm in Silicon Valley.

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