App(le) or Website? by

A measure of how Apple has changed the game: even die-hard advocates of a browser-first-and-last method for building applications is starting to second-guess their conclusions.  The Apple iPhone/iTouch platform has so many devices out there, that it is hard to resist developing for it first – even if it wasn’t the best-looking target environment to deploy software to.  On top of that, it *is* the best-looking target environment.  Even more troubling for other platforms: Apple has the “cool” factor working for it to.  You can develop for the most populous platform, that shows off your service or application the best, and also get a halo effect of the Apple cool-factor to rub off on you.  When’s the last time you saw USA Today take out a full page ad to advertise their Droid app?  But on Monday they had one advertising their iPhone app (or was it iPad?). And I didn’t even look at it as USA Today being a pretender – it just made sense to me that they’re targeting this platform. But there’s another factor that analysis like that offered by John Arnold overlooks.  The mobile website experience is significantly degraded by the quality of your 3G or Edge signal.  It makes some web applications nearly unusable, even though they were specifically designed for Android or for the iPhone. Cameron Moll gives a similar critique of the current state of affairs:
I argued that “smart clients” (lightweight apps installed on a device whose content is primarily fed by and stored in the cloud) would and should remain secondary to providing the same experience in the browser, again for the reasons mentioned above. Since the release of iPhone and now with the release of iPad, I’ve gradually found myself questioning more and more the assumption I made. Apple has consistently proven that holistically controlling the entire user experience—inclusive of hardware to software and everything in between—has the potential to yield a more pleasant experience overall. Think of Mac OS + Mac, iPhone OS + iPhone, and now iPhone OS + iPad.
He wonders if HTML5 and CSS might still offer viable alternatives to objective-C on the iPhone, but I think without a fully “local” experience with the cached data, it won’t be good enough.  One of the things phone users are starting to value is how their applications behave when they’re offline (in the subway, on a plane, or just in a dead spot). If I were writing my “mobile experience” for a product today, there’s no question I’d write it first for the iPhone OS.  Odds are it will have the best overall user experience and set the stage for positive reviews and buzz – as well as reaching the largest number of people.  People on phones other than iPhone and Android phones simply don’t use the mobile web – it doesn’t truly work for them.  Android is gaining steam but it is still a distant second, and has a fractured marketplace for me to publish my apps to.  In fact, I’d probably write the iPhone App first, then the mobile web app.  And then evaluate market demand for Android. But that’s just me.