I have been conducting a series of interviews of SMEs that use Web technologies to build mobile applications, as part of our work in the MobiWebApp project to build a standardization roadmap for mobile Web applications.
Hello Tom, how would you describe the business of your company?
We launch software products for mobile phones. Over the years we’ve worked with most mobile platforms, including the web.
How have you been using Web technologies as part of your deployment of mobile applications?
Some of our first work, in 2000, was WAP sites and AvantGo (an offline web browser) services. Since then we’ve built mobile sites, hybrid native/web apps using PhoneGap, and have frequently used HTTP as a transport even in otherwise un-webbish applications.
What are the advantages you’ve found to using Web technologies?
The main one is speed of iteration of user interface; and finding skilled individuals who can work with them.
What are the missing pieces that prevent you from using Web technologies in more products, or in a more advanced fashion?
Browser fragmentation on mobile devices is a problem (even WebKit isn’t consistent). Performance of the web stack doesn’t match performance of native apps, and is unsuitable for producing apps which look native.
In your experience, what are the type of situations where Web technologies are a better fit, and in what situations are they still lagging behind?
They’re a great fit for adapting content to mobile devices and getting reach across a wide range of mobile OS and device platforms. They’re pretty good for producing apps which don’t necessarily look like native applications: we’ve done work for ad agencies which is a good fit, because they tend to be keen on producing highly branded, and therefore customised, apps.
They lag behind on delivering an experience which matches expectations of quality driven by native apps.
Any practical advice you would like to share with other companies that would like to take a similar approach?
Test across different platforms from the very beginning; evaluate the “kitchen sink” apps of toolkit and framework providers carefully; produce differing versions of your product for different OS platforms which fit with the UI metaphors of that platform. For instance, Android users expect to use the hardware back button, whilst iPhone users expect there to be a “back” button at the top left of their screen.