Publishing/Writing: Insights, News, Intrigue

10/24/2011

Web Apps, Native Apps and Publishing


Apps are very apropos!

Tonight I’m visiting “Tech City” a little … and I’m not a true ‘techie’, so bear with me. 

I am amazed that apps have been written that allow e-books to be read (rendered) over many different formats (devices) at the same time. For example, you publish a book with the Amazon Kindle format and it can be read (distributed) over, say, the Apple iPad format, as well as others, with one generic app (like ePub for instance, I think).

The main difference between a web app and a native app is the web app is a more generic app that you can access and utilize over the web (as opposed to the internet) that allows an e-book to be published and read over multiple device formats. A native app is one developed for a specific device like an iPhone and is usually accessed on the internet through technologies like TCP/IP. In the recent past the native apps were far more detailed and superior, and still are to a lesser degree. But, advances in app technology has narrowed the quality between the native and web apps.

In researching this area of interest, I was reminded of something that I had forgotten: simply that there is a difference between the wide world web and the internet.

A more detailed explanation on apps is provided by Diane Buzzeo, CEO and founder of Ability Commerce, in the latest issue of Website Magazine:

Web Apps vs. Native Apps

Which is Best for Your Business?

Is the rise of mobile apps a death knell for the World Wide Web? Not quite. While content is being moved from the Web, where it’s openly shared, to closed environments that share data over the Internet but not on the “Web” — many important issues still need to be addressed.

How you plan on sharing your company’s content and product is a crucial part of your business plan. It’s vital to make the distinction between the Web and the Internet when directing your company’s mobile and e-commerce strategies.

For example, when accessing the Wall Street Journal from a Web browser, you’re on the World Wide Web, an interconnected network of billions of data points that’s regulated by an international body. When you access the Journal through a mobile app, you’re on the Internet; using various technologies like TCP/IP protocol, and communicating with the Journal’s servers to deliver their content to your device.

As smartphones and tablets have risen in popularity, companies have designed apps to accommodate mobile devices’ smaller browsing screens and restricted bandwidths. Developers found that apps could be tailored to complete a select handful of tasks in an attractive manner, funneling essential information to the user despite a less powerful device. However, advances in Web technology, namely in the form of HTML5 and CSS3, are offering alternatives to native apps.

Tim Berners-Lee, the inventor of the Web, recently lashed out against closed-off native apps in Scientific American:

The tendency for magazines, for example, to produce smartphone “apps” rather than Web apps is disturbing, because that material is off the Web. You can’t bookmark it or email a link to a page within it. You can’t tweet it. It is better to build a Web app that will also run on smartphone browsers, and the techniques for doing so are getting better all the time.

Pandora, which recently switched to a leaner, Flash-less Web app, now loads, on average, five times faster than the Flash version, a much faster on-boarding experience. However, the features of Web-based apps still lag behind those of their flashier, native, counterparts. The best method to reach customers is far from decided, however. Below are a set of parameters that you can use to determine the best platform and approach to deliver your product or content to the largest number of consumers and customers.

Accessibility

There are two facets of accessibility worth considering when deciding which avenue to take — accessibility as it relates to universality and broad, open access (a larger audience), and accessibility on the user device. On the device, as it stands now, there’s no real comparison. Native apps offer a smoother and more streamlined user interface, as they run offline on the device’s processor. Apple wowed the world with its iPhone’s home page, onto which crisp, fast-reacting app icons were set. The home page was so intuitive, a toddler could use it.

In fact, when a native app is live, there’s no comparing its functionality to a Web app. The one drawback, however, is that users have to download the apps individually. Also, the popularity of three different mobile operating systems means that companies have to commission three different versions of the same app to reach the largest audience possible.

Web apps offer more open access with lower performance standards. Last year, YouTube unveiled an HTML5 mobile site. The HTML5 version did away with Flash as the site’s video platform and now allows any smartphone device to access videos through pre-installed Web browsers. Although YouTube has a native app for every commonly used platform, the new mobile site is built to work with future devices and is cross-platform out-of-the-box. There will be no need to continually update its mobile app for the three major mobile operating systems. Also, updates and programming tweaks can be made without the user downloading an update directly to their device.

Performance/Features

While Web applications may provide more accessibility, even the most modern Web browsers still can’t provide the performance benchmarks that native apps reach. Web apps, with the exception of geolocation, don’t provide access to the slew of new hardware included in smartphone devices today. But apps that are coded specifically for certain classes of devices can integrate with a bevy of advanced hardware, including gyroscopes, cameras, microphones and speakers.

If your company is planning on delivering graphics-heavy or complex content, a native app may be a more suitable choice. If broad accessibility and searchability are focuses, Web apps are a better choice.

Web standards are improving, however, offering new ways to display content over the Web. HTML5, CSS3 and Java are leading the charge against the closed, native app dominance by offering video and animation features through the typical Web browser. The New York Times unveiled a Web app deemed “The Skimmer” that runs in a user’s browser window and looks startlingly similar to the publication’s mobile app — no download necessary.

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