Jon T. Norwood
There has been much speculation recently regarding the battle between Mobile Apps, such as Android and Apple, and Web Apps, which are applications designed to run from anywhere and that reside on the Internet. Most of the pundits are predicting that mobile Internet access will surpass traditional Internet access by 2012 or 2013, depending on which pundit you peruse. While this may be true, it would logically follow that mobile apps will therefore dominate. Logical sounding, but this may not be the case. Not if Firefox has anything to say about it. Google already has Web Apps for Chrome, which is easy because the same browser runs on Android. Many Android users, however, use Firefox as their web browser. This makes the March 3 announcement of the release of the Mozilla App Initiative big news.
Web Apps and Mobile Apps
To set the stage for the discussion it is important to understand the difference between a Web App and a Mobile App. A Mobile App is a piece of software designed to run on a mobile OS platform, such as Android, Apple, or …something else. The user downloads the app, installs it, and then it runs, but only on that specific OS platform. This is one of the ways that mobile OS providers attract attention to their smartphone OSes, by claiming to have more apps than the other person does.
A Web App is a piece of software that is designed to run in a particular web browser such as Firefox, Chrome, Opera, Safari, or any of the other dedicated browsers available. The main difference is that if a user has say, Firefox on their laptop or home computer, and their smartphone or tablet and they install a Web App that they find useful, they can install it on all of their other systems, typically using the same browser type on the smartphone OS, and have a synchronized experience across all devices.
This means that if they start reading an article on the Huffington Post on their smartphone, they can finish it at home on their PC, for example. For tablets and smartphones, the Mobile App might run faster, but the Web App is portable and could have greater capability.
Mozilla to the Rescue
Just because there will be as many tablets on the Internet as laptops by 2014, does not mean that the laptops will be gone. Until now, one of the key consistencies on the Internet was the Browser. The Android/Apple mobile explosion will settle in, and most users will still be loyalty to their browser, most likely Google Chrome, Firefox, Safari, or IE8 or 9.
It is interesting to note that on the developer’s information on the Mozilla App Initiative page there is mention of developing Web Apps for either Firefox or Chrome, but no other. Some of the capabilities that are being showcased by Mozilla show great promise. Some of these features include Payment Services that allow users to see balances on all their cards and accounts while choosing one to make a payment with, all before a website receives the transaction. Another is Widget Discovery. Widgets are small app-like functions similar to Chrome or Firefox extensions that serve simple services, such as weather or stock quotes, Web Apps can take advantage of this and incorporate their functionality into its own, even assisting users to access them without having to shift back and forth from one tab to another.
The Future of Mobile
The Internet and how it is accessed evolved on a continuous scale. Tablets are just another piece of hardware to access the Internet, as are smartphones. The real winner in this battle will be the users who are given easy, intelligent means of accessing the information they need, doing the things they enjoy and communicating with whom they wish.
We could soon see Mobile Apps that act as interfaces for Web Apps. Websites that detect the platform that you are using and install the service you need to access their sites services, and then do it again on your other devices. Users may soon stop seeing the difference between Mobile Apps and Web Apps, and only see the services they provide. There is room for both and the confusion of riches is the only real problem. What about an App that finds Apps, mobile or not based on what you do and asks you if you would like to try them? With over half a million apps, and many more soon to be developed, Web Apps might not be a bad idea.