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Browser vs. App Argument Is A Non-starter

4365492499 aa40000eef mMany people including myself believe that the variety of Apps in the App Store is what truly differentiates Apple from the rest of the pack in the mobile phone and tablet market. But Jon von Tetzchner, Co-founder of Opera Software, speaking at the CeBIT Technology Trade Fair in Hannover, Germany last week, said there are many things that apps simply can't do, and for that you require a browser. He cited ordering a pizza or buying something on an ecommerce site as two good examples.

Of course, being in the browser business, he would say that.

Still he has a point, and that brings us back to the old app versus browser argument. Why build an app, rather than simply tuning your web site to the mobile experience? Yet von Tetzchner didn't like that approach either. For him the Web should be one seamless experience, and we shouldn't have two separate worlds: one for mobile and one of the desktop. Although I see his point, I have a problem with his arguments on a couple of levels.

First of all, one of the true advantages of the mobile-cloud connection is to move seamlessly between the Web, desktop and your mobile device. My favorite example of this type of approach is Evernote, which has a desktop app, a Web app and a very nice iPhone app -- and they all sync automatically via the cloud. This is where the cloud really stops being a buzz word, and becomes a useful concept of accessing your data anywhere, on any device.

I'm guessing, however, that von Tetzchner might disagree with my enthusiasm for this approach. He cited his Opera Link service as a way to move seamlessly between the web and your mobile device, and he pointed out if a site has a different address for mobile, his company's approach to linking between devices won't work because it requires a single address.

That said, I was introduced to a product by Microsoft last week called Windows Intune. It's a very nice cloud- and Web-based PC monitoring app, but when I asked if there were a mobile phone app to go with it, the Microsoft representative seemed perplexed by my question. He explained I could get an email alert on my mobile phone with a link to the Intune web site where administrators could deal with the problem.

Yet it seemed to me, this was a perfect situation to close the loop and build an app that synced in the cloud like Evernote and provided access to the same information you would see on the web site, packaged in app that made it easier to use and process on the mobile device.

The trouble with using the Web in these instances, is too often the sites haven't been designed to display on a mobile device. I know that I get annoyed when a web site hasn't been tuned to appear on my phone because I'm forced to pinch and scroll to get the site to do what I want. Sometimes an app is just easier because it's been designed from the beginning to display on smart phone screen.

In those instances where you need this type of approach, Opera gives you access to Opera Widgets (which are essentially apps), built using Web standards instead of in a proprietary way.

In spite of his staunch defense of the browser, he said the future of the Web was based on interconnected devices.

I completely agree, but I also believe the app versus browser argument really doesn't matter. There will be instances when developers will find the browser makes more sense--just because it's expensive to develop apps if nothing else--and there will be times when an app approach makes more sense.

As developers, you don't have to lock yourself rigidly into either/or situations. While von Tetzchner may be in the browser business and prefer a single approach, from your perspective, just use the best approach for your organization for a given project, and get some help when you feel there's too much to ground to cover on your own.

Photo by Nils Geylin on Flickr. Used under Creative Commons License.
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