Friday, February 4, 2011

I'd take the browser

I just realized that once again I am going against the flow, and this time it is about whether to do mobile applications or mobile websites.

I think it was back in 2001 when I made my first mobile application, it was for Nokia 9210 and Symbian was still called Epoc. To make an application for that device was a very painful process, supporting documentation was nonexistent, there was hardly anyone to ask help and SDKs and tools were jurassic. When application was ready, users didn't dare to even try installing it, because the whole concept of installing stuff to telephone was beyond their comprehension. Despite of that I wanted to create applications and not browser content.

Constantly I was challenged about applications vs. browser question. Users had just experienced the transition from desktop applications to desktop browser solutions and of course wanted to know why mobile world was different compared to desktop world. The reasons for applications were simple: terminals were lacking many features and only applications could fill those gaps; data networking was very expensive, unreliable and circuit switched; browsers supported only WAP and user's didn't even know how to configure it. That's why I wanted to create applications, luckily there was no fragmentation at that time.

Fast Forward 10 years.

Today's devices are primarily internet data satellites and most of them have capability to do also old-fashioned voice calls. Devices are online all the time, switch between networks transparently and some have better screen resolution than office monitors had ten years ago. Devices are filled with capabilities, including great (or bearable - you know who I mean…) browsers. At the same time new device platforms pop up everywhere, old platforms get updates, fragmentation spreads around the business and still applications are the most hyped thing. It doesn't make sense. No matter which platform you choose for your application, you rule out most of the users. If you pick browser solution and implement it wisely, you can reach 96% of devices instantly if that is needed. Today I can't help suggesting customers by default to choose browser and forget applications, unless a real reason exists to decide the opposite. Because typically browser is also cheaper choice, customers can invest remaining budget on marketing and attract users that way. When your first application is published, you have just scratched the surface but with browser you probably are done already.

Why everybody then wants applications today? Probably because it is so easy to go with the herd and application stores give you visibility and some coolness-factor? Of course there are cases when an application is a must, but looking at top-100 applications from any listing you can easily see that "let's duplicate our browser content with our application" is the most common specification used. And if you think application store is a great way to get publicity for your application, you certainly are not alone. In Apple AppStore only you have over 300.000 friends, sharing your hopes.