January 16, 2012
The battle between native and web applications has historically been like a paddleboat ride for one: a bit lopsided. But just the other day the web app camp gained some serious muscle with AT&T’s proposed HTML5 App Store.
Before you get too excited, I should disclose that the name is a bit of a misnomer. The store will not sell any products directly, but will rather consist of a curated set of links to apps available on developer’s sites or the Android Market. This in itself may not seem like a revolutionary tool for users. The real excitement here comes more from the recognition of HTML5 not only as a valid platform, but one that can be valuable in its own right, with capabilities that are no longer just a watered-down version of those available to native apps.
In the past, HTML5 apps have sacrificed power for compatibility. Recently, examples have shown that this tradeoff is no longer necessary. HTML5 developers have access to many of the tools that native app developers have grown accustomed to as being reserved exclusively for their own use.
A perfect example of this new-found interest and investment is the browser version of the popular app Cut the Rope, a physics-heavy puzzle game. There is a nice video of Cut the Rope’s dev team and their thoughts on developing the game for browsers.
Ironically, this app runs much better on a desktop than a mobile device, indicating that some RAM is required (the iPad seems to run it much more smoothly). Even more ironic is the fact that it was developed with Internet Explorer in mind as the primary platform (all the web developers out there can start their grumbling), proving that a very high level of compatibility is possible with even the most complicated web app.
This idea of compatibility seems to be the primary motivation for creating an HTML5 app. This isn’t just limited to development, but also extends to distribution. Not only do developers have to deal with a completely different programming language for each platform, but the process of approval and method for delivery is totally unique for each platform as well.
Matt Nuzum, a Des Moines developer who is launching his own HTML5 app store called SquareTap, described the problem as such: “There is no central marketplace for users and developers to buy and sell apps. Imagine a shopping mall but only some people could shop there. Maybe your daughter could go to it but you had to use a different place to shop because this one wouldn’t even let you in the door.”
While AT&T’s effort indicates that there is enough demand for such an environment to exist, it is far from a solution to the problem. It still limits the users to AT&T customers. Because of this, it advocates development for the platforms that it carries.
Hopefully the exposure generated by AT&T’s venture will result in the success of a truly open marketplace like SquareTap that welcomes and supports all developers. For now, developers must continue to resign themselves to grumbling about compatibility issues and wishing for the day when a universal programming language unites all of us.