Too many iPhone apps?

A couple of weeks ago I was walking through Barnes & Noble when I saw an ad for their Bookstore iPhone app, which lets you search for books, get recommendations, find your closest store – you get the idea. So why, I asked myself, is this a native app at all, when all that functionality can easily reside on a web site that can be formatted for the iPhone?

And that’s a question I’m increasingly asking myself, now that the App Store has topped 65,000 applications and rising. You can build an amazing amount of functionality into a web app for the iPhone. You can interpret gestures, link to maps, address book items, include photos or videos, etc. You can do fancy animations and transforms. You can even have off-line functionality.

And web apps have the advantage of being available on desktops and other mobile platforms (though, granted, not all the other platforms understand all of the pieces of html 5 and iphone specific features).

So why is everybody rushing to build native apps?

There are two reasons I’ve come up with:

The first is the marketing advantage of having an app in the iTunes App Store. Even though Apple does have a site that highlights iPhone web apps, it doesn’t have anywhere near the mindshare of the app store. But one has to wonder how much attention any individual app is going to get in the app store now as the size of the store grows ever more huge.

The second (that David Morton pointed out to me) is that the App Store makes it easy for app writers to handle payment for apps. That’s not trivial, though many of the apps, including the B&N Bookstore app, are free.

All this was brought to mind by the recent flap over Apple not allowing Google Voice applications into the App Store, and subsequent reports that Google will build all the same functionality into a web app.

I’m sure that there is some functionality you can build in a native app that can’t be done in a web app, but if Google can pull off building all of the voice functionality into a web app, it seems to me that will be a powerful demonstration of what can be accomplished in current web apps.


2 thoughts on “Too many iPhone apps?”

  1. iToy consumers overwhelmingly rejected web apps in favor of native apps, for much the same reasons that they rejected diskless workstations ~20 years ago.

    Web apps, by their nature, require access to the network and the mobile device’s radio to operate. True, there’s no reason why YouTube, Stocks, Maps, and Weather couldn’t be web apps; they’re all useless without Internet access anyway. But let’s consider the other built-in apps, and see where this goes…

    Why not make Calendar, Contacts, Notes, and Voice Memos be web apps, and force all iToy owners to subscribe to MobileMe?

    Why not make Mail be a web app, or at least a true IMAP client? After all, lots of people use webmail and don’t complain.

    And why does the media library have to be stored on the iToy? It could be held on the server and streamed when the user decides to play it. No need to apply DRM since it never leaves the security of the server.

    And if we’re doing all of that, might as well make Clock and Calculator be a web app too.

    OK, I think that I’ve made my point. There are issues of access, control, and appropriateness in which web apps are not the One True Solution.

    It’s absurd to go out on the Internet to get the time, or to do a quick calculation. People actually want to be able to access their calendar/contacts/notes/mail, and play their media, even when they don’t have Internet connectivity. And this is just the basic suite that are on all iToys.

    There are many other apps that have similar issues of access, control, and appropriateness.

    A 500 pound gorilla is that of games. Surprisingly, Apple has no bundled games on the iToy (although one can argue that the entire iToy is a game). Third parties have filled in the gap. Mobile device games typically are not played in the home; that’s the domain of video game consoles. Instead, mobile device games are diversions when having to wait in public, often in places where the Internet is unavailable and/or it is necessary to turn off the radio (as on aircraft). A web app is a complete flop here. Most games do not, and should not, need Internet access.

    The jailbreak community recognized all this early on, and that Apple’s insistence upon web apps was simply a way for Apple to put non-Apple developers in a second-class position. Apple had to backtrack with its hastily constructed App Store.


  2. Apple is controlling the webapps, as such many are unknown and many developers could not have any hope for their work. As for itune app, Apple does make a percentage of the profit. If you are looking for all the webapps (approved or rejected) or you want to showcase your work, you can use free webapps listing and search site at

    It is free and best of all, it will not reject any apps. It will need the support of all developers before it can provide any hope to other developers.


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