Cameron Moll is worried about a future in which we’ll all write Objective-C for the iPhone OS instead of writing web standards for the mobile web.
At one point in time, J2ME (now Java ME) and WAP were the starting points for a discussion on mobile strategy and the web. Then, for a brief period of time, you talked about HTML/CSS. Now, for a growing majority of mobile strategies that don’t require a global presence on widely varying devices, the discussion begins with iPhone.
Emphasis mine. Strategy and presence are the clue, and they’re the reasons I think the situation will not be quite as bad as Cameron fears.
Which mobile strategies do not require presence on a large number of devices? Which strategies, in other words, can afford to ignore the non-iPhone world in favour of native development in Objective-C?
I can’t give you a full list because nobody knows yet, but I’m willing to wager that it will come down mostly to games, and to a lesser extent other entertainment applications, such as the NPR one Cameron mentions.
More in general, this all comes back to the superior UX vs. superior interoperability question. What’s more important to you?
This is a total no-brainer when we’re talking about games and other entertainment apps. When it comes to complex, graphic games, vendors will opt for superior UX, and once you’ve done that, starting on iPhone OS makes excellent sense.
But if you build an integrated social media client, is superior UX still so important that you can afford to ignore non-iPhones? I don’t think so. I think creators of such apps would do better to create one in web standards so that it runs on all (well, many) devices. There’s stiff competition out there, and the wider your reach, the better chance you have of prevailing.
The big question of our times (i.e. this year and next) is when an app can safely choose for the superior UX, and when circumstances dictate the web app route, which gives less UX eye candy, but far more reach.
All in all I feel a measured, logical answer to this question is possible; it just requires some more study.
However, the problem right now is that everybody is staring at the UX side of the equation and does not think about the interoperability side at all.
There is a fundamental, and dangerous, imbalance here. Certainty precludes study. I feel that that’s what Cameron is worried about.
As readers of this blog know I’m firmly putting my weight on the interoperability side of things. Now you also know why: attention for superior UX needs to go down a tad. We have to reach an attention equilibrium between superior UX and superior reach before we can truly discuss the pros and cons of the two strategies.
I think that the pull of Objective-C that Cameron is feeling right now will be a temporary phase. The mobile web will continue to grow because there is no other way of getting an app to run on many platforms. And getting your app on as many devices as possible will be the winning strategy for most, if not all, non-entertainment apps out there. Even clients will figure that out ... eventually.
Patience. The web is not going anywhere. It just has to define its relationship to native development. And I have no doubt it will succeed and flourish.
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